The Good: Bex Marshall rocked TOP last Wednesday night.
The Bad: Little more than a dozen people got to enjoy it.
The Ugly: Their biggest act to date draws their smallest crowd.
Since opening its doors a little over a month ago, the new That Other Place has hosted a number of live acts, but arguably none bigger than Bex Marshall.
True, “big” is relative. Although her 2013 album The House Of Mercy earned 3rd Best British Blues Album of the year honors and a 4 star review in DOWNBEAT magazine, I had never heard of her before TOP announced her booking – and I doubt many of you probably had either. But Bex proved worthy of the aforementioned accolades as she ripped through selections from her 13-year catalog of original tunes.
While she used a solid body Gibson Les Paul for a few songs, Marshall’s unique style really shined with an Ozark resonator in her hands. Percussive finger-picking and smooth slide work combined to create one aspect of her signature sound. The other was her voice. All I need to tell you about her voice is that Big Brother and the Holding Company pegged Marshall to represent Janis Joplin on their recent tour of the UK.
The sound in TOP is really quite good. Better than I had expected. The only discernible flaw was a harsh high end – particularly back by the windows bordering Pulteney Street. I suspect some window treatments and/or some more bodies filling in the club would go a long way towards cleaning that up. Standing on the slightly raised dance floor in front of the stage, the sound was appropriately loud, but crisp and clean for this three-piece blues setup.
Though I didn’t need to be front & center to both hear and see the band well. The lack of any crowd meant completely open sight lines. It was easy to get drinks, and I got to hang out and chat with Bex for an hour because there was no one else there to compete with for her time. I had a blast, but honestly hope that never happens again. It’s pretty simple: if acts like Bex Marshall don’t draw a crowd, there is no way TOP will be able to keep booking them.
Marshall was not the first act through TOP’s newly-opened doors to feature it’s own music (locals Amongst the Monks took that title on May 1st), but she is emblematic of the performers TOP hopes to attract on a regular basis: full-time, touring bands and artists with a repertoire of original songs. Such acts – whether you’re familiar with them and their tunes or not – are worthy of notice. As good as many of the local bands we know and love are, musicians who have devoted their personal and professional lives to the music business are more often than not capable of performing on a completely different level.
Most acts of this caliber will be impossible for a club like TOP to book on a Friday or Saturday night. Bex Marshall’s trio played Buffalo two nights before and Philadelphia two nights later – for roughly ten times what she earned in Corning. Catching such acts traveling in between bigger venues is a good strategy, and TOP sweetened the deal by offering the band a comfortable stay at the Inn at the Gaffer Grille and picking up their meals & drinks.
Marshall told me they truly enjoyed the small-city treatment they received – and appreciated the opportunity to chill out for a couple of days in Corning. And despite the low attendance at their inaugural show, the band will consider stopping here again when their tour returns this way in September.
In the meantime, check out the other marquee bookings TOP has on their calendar. Consider a show like this as not just the background soundtrack to a night out, but as a feature event. I’m here to argue that if you’re a fan of music, it’s worth squeezing some of these (inevitably mid-week “school night”) shows into your schedule. Take a chance on some of these acts that – though you may never have heard of them – have dedicated their lives to music. You never know when someone passing through Corning may become big enough that cover bands play their songs some day…
Up next at TOP: Miller and the Other Sinners (Friday May 29th at 8:30pm)
TOP – That Other Place
1 W Pulteney St