Hem was one of my favorite bands before they went on indefinite hiatus for a variety of reasons back in 2007. The 8-piece Brooklyn-based ensemble features exceptional songwriting and a uniquely rich sound fronted by the warm entrancing voice of Sally Ellyson. So I was genuinely thrilled when I found out last year that they were reuniting to tour again, and their long-awaited new album Departure and Farewell feels like the return of an old friend!
I had taped Hem’s show at The Bell House in Brooklyn this past March (on the Live Music Archive here), but the venue doesn’t have great acoustics and the audience was understandably boisterous since it was the band’s first full-length show in more than five years, lending the event the character of a homecoming party. So I was really looking forward to taping this show at Bowery Ballroom, one of New York’s best-sounding venues, which would again feature the full 8-piece band plus Dawn Landes on harmony vocals and glockenspiel (Dawn also opened the show). Bandleader Dan Messé had graciously given advance permission for a soundboard feed, and Bowery’s engineers were very accommodating about hooking me up when I arrived to set up my gear. I also had an almost-new pair of silky-sounding Gefell M210 mics clamped to the balcony rail. I was very happy to see Christina who maintains the band’s excellent fan site allabouthem.com and traveled down from Boston for the show, and before long my local friends & fellow Hem fans Paul and Adriana joined me on the balcony with great anticipation.
Dawn started the evening by playing a wonderful 11-song set to a very respectful audience, with her producer Thomas Bartlett and Hem members Steve Curtis and Bob Hoffnar accompanying at various points. The set featured a very provocative sampling of songs from her forthcoming new album, which sounds like it will be amazing!
Dawn Landes – vocals, guitar
Thomas Bartlett – piano
Steve Curtis – guitar
Bob Hoffnar – pedal steel
2. Money In The Bank
3. Little Miss Holiday
4. Try To Make A Fire Burn Again
5. Oh Brother
6. Tired Of This Life
7. Dig Me A Hole
12. Tori Song
Please support the artist and buy Dawn’s albums and stuff!
Hem’s set was not without its problems. The first several songs were plagued by frequent static coming through the speakers, which the engineers were finally able to fix during Reservoir. There were also several miscues early on by various band members, and Sally just could not dredge up the right lyrics for the third verse of the Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want (she finally enlisted the crowd’s assistance to hilarious effect). But the band was undaunted and soon they settled into a very comfortable groove, playing no less than 28 songs to the hometown crowd including some impossibly gorgeous renditions of classics like Strays and Carry Me Home along with most of their new record. Once the initial problems with static were resolved, the sound was very good indeed! All in all, it was a very joyful and memorable evening for Hem lovers.
The source mix for both these recordings is roughly 70/30 mics to soundboard. Because of the static coming through the venue’s speakers early in the set, I have also included the mono soundboard source alone for Hem’s first five songs. The distortion is absent from the board mix, but there are some obvious manipulations of the channel faders as the engineers attempted to diagnose the problem.
Sally Ellyson – vocals
Dan Messé – keyboards
Steve Curtis – acoustic guitar, mandolin, backing vocals
Gary Maurer – acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, harmonica
Bob Hoffnar – pedal steel, dobro
Heather Zimmerman – violin
George Rush – upright and electric bass
Mark Brotter – drums
Dawn Landes – backing vocals, glockenspiel, tambourine
1. Lord, Blow The Moon Out Please
2. When I Was Drinking
4. Hotel Fire
7. The Seed
8. Traveler’s Song
10. Departure And Farewell
11. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
12. The Jack Pine
14. My Father’s Waltz
15. Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing
16. Carry Me Home
17. Stupid Mouth Shut
18. Identical Snowflakes
19. Seven Angels
20. Almost Home
21. Old Adam
22. choir practice
23. Last Call
24. band intros
25. Not California
26. Half Acre
27. We’ll Meet Again Along The Way
28. He Came To Meet Me
30. So Long
Joyfully recorded by Keith from NY
Gefell M210 (85′ from stage, 22′ up, 8′ left of center) > Darktrain cables > Grace V3 @24/48 > Oade R-44 > Lexar SDHC
SBD > Darktrain cables > Oade R-44 @24/48 > Lexar SDHC
cardreader > Adobe Audition/iZotope Ozone/Algorithmix Red PEQ (limiting, EQ, mixdown, compression < 120 Hz) > Voxengo r8brain (resample) > Adobe Audition/iZotope Ozone (MBIT+ dither) > CD Wave (tracking)
Notes: Intermittent static from the speaker arrays during tracks 1 through 5, you can occasionally hear the engineers talking as they try to fix it
Please support the artists and buy Hem’s albums and stuff!
Keep up with Hem’s latest adventures at www.allabouthem.com
Many thanks to Hem, Dawn Landes and Bowery Ballroom for making these recordings possible!