By Alyssa Sanford
Alternative musicians Noah Guthrie and Libbie Schrader performed eclectic sets in the Decker Social Space on Friday, Sept. 11.
Schrader, a New York City-based singer-songwriter and graduate student pursuing a second degree in theology, opened for Guthrie with “Come When I Call.” Her energy was palpable. As she sang, she struck her keyboard with force and stomped her feet for emphasis. At one point, Schrader raised one hand over her head and continued playing seamlessly with the other hand, as if she hadn’t lifted her hand at all.
She followed up with “Share It,” promising that it would be “a little bit lighter” than her opening number. Schrader’s powerful vocals matched the confident, impassioned way she played the piano.
“I move my head a lot when I perform,” Schrader said after her headband slipped off mid-song.
Playing a set on the 14th anniversary of the tragedies at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., in 2001 inspired Schrader to sing “Alive,” a song that she wrote after 9/11. Because she doesn’t play the song often, she had to Google herself and listen to the song on iTunes before the show started to figure out the correct key.
“I was thinking about (the tragic events in 2001) this morning, and it’s something we should all think about today,” Schrader said before segueing into a chorus of, “Hey, you’re alive / You’re alive.”
But Schrader’s magnum opus was “Magdalene,” a song about the Biblical figure Mary Magdalene that “kind of took over my life,” Schrader said, explaining that her research led her to pursue a degree in theology. The song was at once a mixture of Christian hymns, alternative pop and a message of female empowerment: “Girl, be as much yourself as possible,” she sang.
Guthrie, a South Carolina native who shot to fame after posting acoustic covers of pop songs on YouTube, took the stage shortly after, opening with an original song, “Break the Silence.”
The gravelly quality of Guthrie’s voice, which stood in contrast with the smooth acoustic guitar he played as accompaniment, commanded the room. Whether he was belting out soaring high notes in a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” or softly crooning “Adore,” an original song that he penned at 16 years old, Guthrie held the audience captivated.
“I have a lot of love songs for you tonight, so if you’re not in that mood, I’m sorry,” Guthrie said, jokingly apologizing for his soulful and emotionally-charged set.
He interspersed personal anecdotes about his song choices and his career trajectory throughout the set. Guthrie prefaced his cover of George Michael’s “Father Figure,” a song he performed as show-choir kid Roderick on “Glee,” with stories about “a very random, out-of-the-blue” call from the show’s casting directors that pulled him further into the spotlight.
“They said they needed a chubby, shy kid who could sound really soulful,” Guthrie said. “And, I raised my hand, I guess.”
Like Schrader, Guthrie had a song prepared in honor of the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. He wrote “New Beginning” the day after the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013 and was “really angry” at the injustice, so he felt inclined to perform it on a day of remembrance.
Guthrie also played the cover song that he considers responsible for launching his career: a “soulful, bluesy version” of “Sexy And I Know It,” by LMFAO.
“[The video] was kind of blowing up, and I was freaking out,” Guthrie said. At present, the video has reached 23 million views on YouTube. The song’s unique acoustic arrangement renders it nearly unrecognizable, which is certainly why Guthrie received so much attention for it.
He closed the set with the “mellow” 1930s classic, “You Are My Sunshine,” but put his own spin on it. The sweet arrangement triggered audible “awes” from the audience within the first few bars.
Equal parts soulful and reflective, both Schrader and Guthrie’s sets were nothing less than impressive.