Brett Dennen may not have the biggest following, but his following is passionate and dedicated. During his solo acoustic set at The Birchmere on Friday, the audience sang along with many of Bret’s tunes.
Born in California’s Central Valley in 1979, Brett’s parents homeschooled him and exposed him to classic rock. Given his style of music, it’s a bit surprising that he played in a jam band while studying philosophy and sociology at the University of California Santa Cruz. After graduating in 2002, he decided to try his hand at at a professional solo career, released his self-titled debut album independently in 2005. Since then, he’s released albums that cover diverse musical territory, with 2011’s Loverboy incorporating African sounds and the reggae-flavored Por Favor in 2016. While his musical purview has expanded, he’s also made stripped-down albums like 2013’s Smoke and Mirrors.
At The Birchmere on Sept. 8, Brett’s set included a number of love songs, starting with “The One Who Loves You The Most,” followed by “By & By.” Between songs, Brett spoke of his memories of previous gigs at The Birchmere, which include playing at the venues previous (and second) location. He also spoke at length about the experience of deja vous, and engaged the crowd throughout his performance. The set continued with “Paul Newman Daytona Rolex,” the achingly comforting “Hope for the Hopeless,” and “San Francisco,” in which he writes about part of his home state.
Watch Brett Dennen perform “San Francisco” live for 101.9 KINK on YouTube:
The current tour takes its name from the title of the song “Fool In Paradise,” which he played following “See The World.” He got back to love songs with “Sydney (I’ll Come Running),” then the story song “Ballad of Lily and Tres,” before returning to that thread with “She’s Mine (Comeback Kid).” The set continued with “Ain’t No Reason,” and finished with “Wild Child.” When he came back for his encore, Brett sent the audience home with “Darlin’ Do Not Fear.”
Singer-songwriter Monroe Via opened the show with a 30-minute, solo acoustic set. His stage name is borrowed from the capital of Liberia, the often war-torn West African nation where he grew up, the memories of which influence his songs, especially one played toward the end of his. Another song addressed the war in Ukraine through the prism of his experiences in Liberia. Currently, he lives in Appalachia.
He opened with “Outlaw For Your Love.” One of his songs was about “accepting yourself,” while “Damn These Horses” was written in response to the death of his friend, Ann. Other songs included “Garden Gate,” “The Washed World,” and set closer “Big Love Ahead.”
Brett has great songs, and does a fine job of playing them on his own, but I’d be interested in seeing what he can do with a band to fill out the sound. He’s musically adventurous in his recordings, and, while his songs are great, I’m not sure the full scope of what he does comes through without that fuller sound. It was a great show, and I’d recommend catching him catching as a either a solo act or with a band.