One man. One mic. One party. That is the task at hand for Madison-native Ari Herstand when he returns solo to the capital city this weekend for the hometown release of his new live album, One Take.
Though he is just 21 years old, the fresh-faced musician — who now calls Minneapolis home — already has quite the impressive résumé. Over the past two years, Herstand performed with artists such as Joshua Radin and played gigs at both famed Austin music extravaganza "South by Southwest" and Wisconsin's own, Summerfest. His work might also sound familiar to MTV junkies — material from his 2005 debut — Baby Eyes — been featured as mood music for dramas like "The Real World" and "Laguna Beach."
But not to worry, unlike the subjects of these reality soap operas, Herstand's music dwells seldom on the superficial. He's not your average guy with an acoustic guitar.
In a unique style that blends elements of pop, folk rock and jazz — think jam man Keller Williams, with an air of Dave Matthews and (more energetic) hints of Jack Johnson and Norah Jones — Herstand's new album leaves little to be desired.
Careful not to overwhelm the listener, he intricately weaves threads of each influence through 13 intelligent tracks that run the lyrical spectrum from the playful "35" — which imagines an adult life that is all too ordinary, complete with TPS reports — to the sardonic social commentary of "Proud Honeybee."
Herstand sets the tone of his "CD concert," recorded at Minneapolis' Varsity Theater and St. Olaf College venue The Pause, with a looped melody of intermingled trumpet bursts, cello interludes and acoustic strumming on "Float on By." Listeners are easily drawn into the mellow track's circling arrangement and the bittersweet lyrics that paint images of an individual looking back on missed opportunities of the past, yet eagerly anticipating whatever the future may bring.
While the singer-songwriter sounds at ease in the low-key tracks, he is equally at home in the swaggering, jazz-infused style of songs like "Poster Boy Celebrity." From the get-go, Herstand sets out to prove that he is truly nothing of the sort, hitting the substance hard with a punchy guitar rhythm that only gains momentum as the singer launches into a surprising beat-box before finally getting the lyrics underway. With so much occurring simultaneously, it would be easy for the singer's voice to be lost under the instrumentation, but Herstand commands the attention of his audience, even making the nostalgic decision to shift back into the music he grew up listening to — ska.
In addition to his all-encompassing personal talents, Herstand's live effort also highlights a talented band comprised of Brian Palay on guitar, Joey Wedel on drums, bassist David Burney, cellist Lucas Shogren and Tim Kloster on trumpet. — One Take– also brings back another blast from the past in the form of "The Photograph." The revamped version of the sweet track off his debut album features a dancing keyboard backdrop set by Joey Kantor and breaks into the occasional burst from the rest of the ensemble. This track only further sets the tone for "Center of a Kiss," an all-out improvisational jam from each group member. Herstand's vocals maintain a pure tone over a beat of guitar-driven percussion and the song builds intensity in layers up until the very end — the trumpet rings out, the beat-box spits rhythms and saxophonist Kevin Sinclair shines in his blaring solos.
Although Herstand will take to the stage sans band this weekend, if the live recordings heard on — One Take — are any indication of the show that is to be expected, Madison concertgoers should be in for a real treat. Herstand's unpretentious, self-described "folk/hop" sound will leave the audience craving a second take.
Ari Herstand will perform at Café Montmartre (127 E. Mifflin St.) Saturday, Feb. 24. The show kicks off at 9 p.m., $6 cover charge.