Sawyer Fredericks came on the Caffe Lena stage Friday night as bashful as ever. The initial excitement of his crowd — a devoted group spanning generations — still seems to throw him, regardless of the number of shows and hours he has logged in the past few years. But he knows enough to get right to the music, where he’s more than comfortable.
After a giggle or two, he dropped into “Hide Your Ghost” so quickly and deeply that it instantly transformed the room.
Next came “Broken Home.” It’s a mystery how such a young man can pull off such somber, honest, tones. More than pull off, he owns it, taking full control of his music, himself, and the audience. His range is small, but his sound and delivery is huge. At the same time, he is not afraid of using space — silence — bringing some moments down to a whisper. More than once Friday night he slowed down the tune till it fell out of time completely — no guitar, no singing for a few seconds — the band had to wait for Fredericks to regain the song’s tempo.
To introduce “Should Have Known Better,” he mentioned the song “Bittersweet,” which prompted ecstatic outbursts from the crowd, and humorous over-the-top “oh my god!” But Fredericks quickly broke the bad news: “Don’t get your hopes up, I’m not going to play that,” he said, triggering another round of emotion from the audience. He explained that “Bittersweet” was on the record “against his will,” to reach a wider audience. “Should Have Known Better” was his effort to demonstrate that he could write his own popular tune.
He was supported by three young, male players — percussion, acoustic guitar, and bass. They gave his voice a nice cushion to sit inside, and offered Fredericks some company on the stage, but in the end his voice and songs are full enough without accompaniment.
When the band left him on stage for a few solo tunes, he said, “I never plan my solo set, so I will take suggestions, I just may or may not play them.” The fawning crowd shouted a barrage of song titles.
He chose “Early in the Morning.” The mere strum of the first chord elicited gasps, and a few “thank yous” before and after the tune, as if he was singing gifts for each of them.
He sang the ironic “Happy,” a sullen melody about wanting to sing a sad song despite feeling happy, the song fades with the unconvincing final lines, “Yes I’m happy, I’m happy, yes I’m happy.”
He opened up his full throat for the first time early in the show, delivering his signature growl, lifting the energy and serving to loosen himself. Often the songs didn’t rise or fall, they just scuttled along the depths of his inner basement—clean, direct and intense.
“The stage is the perfect size for me, because I don’t move at all,” he said halfway through the show. By the end he had found his comfort zone between songs, teasing the audience, “My setlist says I only have one more song, but I feel like I should be playing more.” He followed this with “The House of the Rising Sun,” a song he delivers with full volume, and then a slight rock tune, “Stalker.”
The crowd clapped to “4 Pockets.” How he wrote this song at age 14 is a bit baffling.
His encore was mesmerizing, as he sang ”Window,” with lines like, “cause its dark in here, gotta find my window.”
He thanked his band, and soundman Joe Devel, who, Sawyer said, “I believe he was my first soundman ever.”
The audience came from numerous states to see the show. Friday night was the first of three sold-out nights at Caffe Lena, and the feeling in the room has a unique synergy. The crowd had as much fun with each other as they did with Fredericks. He is a special talent, and wildly wise — musically — for his young age. It will be interesting to see how much deeper he goes with his music, if that’s even where he’s heading.
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