Tuesday night, the barn in Danny Malone’s backyard became crammed with bodies wedging into the makeshift venue, covered with paintings, unmounted portraits, and rustic chandeliers. Austin’s indie folker flitted around making last-minute adjustments before taking the stage. He took time to introduce his cat, Simone, as she lounged on top of the piano.
“Hey,” he paused. “Could somebody shout outside that it’s time to come in now?”
Such are the casual exchanges afforded when musicians allow audiences into their private spheres. The “Special Magic Barn Fantastic Show” gathered friends and complete strangers for what felt like a scripted living room performance. It proffered the same feelings of affection you get watching your best friend’s band practice.
Except this time your best friend is immensely talented.
Malone was joined by a fivepiece ensemble bringing to life selections from his upcoming album Balloons, as well as 2009 LP Cuddlebug. His lush folk pop received orchestral treatment by the backing band, largely composed of members from local chamber pop purveyors Mother Falcon. Malone had no problem stealing the show on the crowded stage .
When trumpeter Matt Krolick attempted to rile a largely silent crowd to excitement I think he’d mistaken the quiet. It wasn’t disengagement or disinterest keeping everyone hushed. Rather, that pin-dropping stillness only happens when everyone in a room gets completely and wholly captivated.
Malone sounded best with songs from Balloons. While its album versions are far from sparse, in the live setting Malone added flourishes. “Spiderlegs” got even more sinister with strings, while the subtle reverb on “Lee Woke Me” was replaced with a quiet swell of horns. He stood as a casual conductor, occasionally taking charge with a passive wave of the hand.
He took a vocal stretch on “Wait For Me” without hesitation, his off-kilter tenor right on the verge of cracking. Then, moving flawlessly through falsetto to a semi-shout, he gave it a ghostly climax that gave me chills. That was no small feat in a room that felt like it was 100 degrees.
The barn show was a rare peek into a process. It wasn’t hard to imagine Malone writing in the space, practicing, drinking, or even sleeping from time to time. It was the best and most vulnerable setting to see him, to the point that I might express concerns seeing him elsewhere.
Sure, it sounds weird to invite a lot of strangers into your home, but there everyone felt like a friend.
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