Radnor & Lee take the stage with timid confidence, doing so wearing timeworn leather shoes, wrinkled shirts and disheveled hair. The two-piece consists of Josh Radnor, who, let’s get it out of the way, once played a lead role on a hit television show, and of Ben Lee, who is very talented and Australian. They play an opening set that’s comforting and warm in the same way a cup of coffee in your family’s kitchen is. It features a collection of tracks to be released on their forthcoming album, with Lee on lead guitar and/or electric ukulele — executing what was perhaps the greatest ukulele solo I’ve ever witnessed, and it’s been more than one — while Radnor saw to lead vocals and rhythm guitar.
More often than you’d think, good music can be made stronger for its simplicity. Radnor & Lee embrace this, and, as a result, produce songs which convey a message without trying too hard to sound prophetic. More to the point, every part of their set brought forth a look of blissful freedom on either faces, both emanating genuine gratitude simply for being on stage. It made me feel a little bit better about the world in that moment — isn’t that what music’s all about?
Shortly after walks out the headliner, singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata, who has made a career of eluding the advances of convention in a genre which is nothing if not rife with it. Let’s be candid, it’s difficult to make Folk music stand out in today’s world, so the artist navigates this by letting her music be an unapologetic extension of herself rather than her ambitions.
Yamagata’s set merits being called more performance art than live music, with projections behind her of intimate family photos or film from her youth, works of poetry, drawings, and collected images in a moving array of individualism and vulnerability which made her already heart-wrenching work all the more impactful. And of course, as all of her fans know, the woman’s voice is in a powerful class of it’s own.
Playing songs from every corner of her catalogue, Ms. Yamagata crafted an experience as intimate as it was unique to her. The audience hung on her every laugh and lyric as she sang and charmed her way into what must have been everyone’s hearts at White Oak that evening. Once again, just like her openers, you could see how fulfilled she was by doing so. It seems like a good way to be.