This week in May marked the return of two house concert performers who had both played in 2008 and hadn’t made it back till now. The first of these was Brennen Leigh, a Fargo native who now lives in Austin. I first met her in Fargo through mutual friend Josh Harty. Unlike Ian Moore, who I’d seen several times in between his first visit and his return, I’d only seen Leigh once since she’d been in the basement. Since then she’d gone vegan, quit drinking and started performing with Noel McCay, it’s the latter that made tonight’s show so great. More accurately it’s the two of them together that did it.
Both are accomplished songwriters and guitar players, at times it was hard to know who to watch they were both so good. When she took the lead Leigh may have had the more memorable songs, several of which had her imagining herself as an old lady. Her dad had given her the marketing advice to make a video for “I Want to Be an Old Lady” and have Betty White star in it. Not a bad idea, the charmingly upbeat song enumerates the privileges afforded by old age, like driving a big car too slow in the passing lane. “Elizabeth, Minnesota” was another, a sweet travelogue around a rural town conducted by an elderly narrator. “North Dakota” could have been sold to the department of tourism it paints such a beautiful picture of the overlooked state. Though first you would have to take out the verse about how drilling for natural gas was destroying the land. For his part, McCay sung beautiful and classic sounding country songs that sound like they could have been written with Guy Clark, sometimes because they were. His song “Are You Still Taking those Drugs” was an argument for growing out of the things you did in high school. Written after McCay ran into one of his best friends from his teens who didn’t recognize him, it was clever and persuasive.
The songs where they traded vocals were reminiscent of John Prine’s duets album In Spite of Ourselves, and took a page from Loves It!’s book of tricks. Their opening number “Before We Come to Our Senses” reveled in the impulsiveness of love, while another song reflected on how vacationing in Lubbock would prove they were really in love. “Sexist from Texas” and “Real Cowboy” both poked fun at some of Texas’s more prominent stereotypes, though Leigh admitted the biggest sexist she’d ever met was from Sweden.
Opener Nick Brown, accompanied by the always terrific Andrew Harrison on electric guitar, was his usual entertaining self, his uncomfortable banter as memorable as his songs. He confessed he’d worn a short sleeved shirt this time since the last time he had “sweated like a pig,” quickly amending that it wasn’t the basement that made him sweat, it was just him. Instead of the usual hard sell many bands take on pushing the merch, he only mentioned that they were on the table and “I think you know what I’m getting at.” He also had a few new songs to supplement those on his debut release, and they were just as smart and catchy as the original bunch, though he seems to think his songwriting has taken a turn for the twelve year old. “The new songs are called “Underpants” and “Ooh, That Girl,”” he deadpanned. “He wasn’t this funny at the High Noon,” my sister whispered to me halfway through his set. And she was right, his band show a few days earlier had been mostly business, but this is definitely the Brown I prefer.