SHOW REVIEW: Meagan Hickman/Jesse Ruben/Hillary Reynolds Band Live from the Red Room at Café 939 on February 23rd, 2012 

The stage was draped in blue as the instruments lay without players. The cello lay idly on its side, as if asleep. When the band walked on and picked up their instruments the lights came up around them. With only a short verbal acknowledgement of the crowd and what looked like a somewhat nervous smile, they began to play.

The Hillary Reynolds Band, a four piece pop band with a somewhat country-esque flavor, opened their set with an up-tempo, down home rock style song called “Good as New.” The audience could tell from the start how great this band was, with the amount of passion in their performance, their tight cohesion and their dynamic range. Throughout the set, they spoke little. Occasionally, a flurry of thank-you’s would emanate from Hillary to the audience and to the BIRN. The music spoke for them, offering lyrics like, “Keep on driving, the future’s in the dawn/ Keep on driving till I get where I belong.” Musically the songs ranged from slow pop ballads, like “Know Your Body,” to Rock songs like “Barricade,” to a Bluesy, Gypsy-like Waltz, titled “Whiskey in Winter.” Performance-wise, there was no denying the skill possessed by cellist, Trevor Jarvis, breathing life into the instrument with every note he bowed. Furthermore, Hillary’s angelic vocals and Trevor’s sweet backups blended flawlessly, creating the perfect final touch to the intimate soundscape. Everyone in the room, many sitting on the floor and intimately drawn into the performance, could see and feel that Trevor was by far the centerpiece and lynchpin of this band. At the end of their set, Trevor announced that the band was releasing their first album titled, Since September, that evening and selling it for the first time ever. Though I wasn’t technically supposed to leave the show I was so compelled to buy one of their records that I sprinted to an ATM just to get the cash to buy a copy. Hillary even signed it for me.

Next up was Jesse Ruben, an acoustic pop singer songwriter, and a Berklee grad to boot. Jesse’s set was colored by genuine lyrics, an extremely informal and comedic relationship with the audience, and frenzied screams from young teenage girls who seemed to spring up out of nowhere. His songs shared his comical stage presence, sporting titles like “I should get out more,” and “Stupid American Guy,” which were both preceded by funny anecdotes from his life. He did have a few surprises, including a song called “Carry On,” which was written for a 9/11 memorial, and an adaptation of “If I only had a Heart” from the Wizard of Oz. He closed his set early, having spent a good deal of his time talking, but his last song was his best. The song was called “Family” and was requested by a fan in the audience. It was the first song he sang that really showed who he was as a person. It revealed personal feelings about people in his family and events that affected them. When he left he was apologetic to the fans that wanted to hear more music, but it’s hard to argue with a performer who leaves with his audience begging for more.

Finally, after these two amazing performances took place on the 939 stage, Meagan Hickman was up to bat. It wasn’t looking good, however, since most of the crowd had cleared out, and the remaining audience members were not exactly what one would call energized. Meagan tried to keep the crowd into the music, but after a technical difficulty or two and Meagan’s requests for more vocals in the monitors it felt more like watching a bad dress rehearsal. On top of this, Meagan’s guitar player was not at all on his game. His guitar tone was too harsh and he seemed unable to use his effects pedals without any confusion. His solos were choppy, and basically all used the blues scale, whether or not the song called for it. This is not to say the performance was without high points. Hickman seemed most at home when she got up from the piano bench, and let her powerhouse pipes take center stage during an Adele cover. The bassist and drummer were locked in the whole time, producing some really tight grooves, which were unfortunately invariably ruined by the guitar player. Meagan’s song writing was not so impressive either. I was less than impressed by her lyrics and she seemed fairly flat in her delivery of them for the duration of the show.

All in all, Meagan was a disappointing headliner with two exceptional supporting acts. With the Hillary Reynolds Band sticking in your memory, and Jesse Ruben leaving you wanting more, it would be hard for any band to offset the success of this concert.

- Review by William Langdon on behalf of the Berklee Internet Radio Network.