At a time when pop artists are opting for the lower octave in their live performances, Edwin McCain‘s hold-nothing-back vocals and down-to-earth acoustics provide refreshing and emotional entertainment.
In his Friday night 12-song set at Harlow’s, a crowd of 200 were treated to one part storytelling, two parts music as McCain disclosed the sources of inspiration for each of the songs performed. Some of the stories were touching, most of them were funny, and all of them were relatable.
McCain was accompanied by one of his band members, Craig Shields, who played the saxophone and wind instrument synthesizer for the entire show. They opened with "Walk With You," a song about a father walking his daughter down the aisle of her wedding.
"It took about a year to get through that song without sniffling,” McCain told the audience.
McCain followed with one of his more widely known tracks, "I Could Not Ask for More." It was a crowd-pleaser, and a quick glance around the intimate venue showed many quietly singing along.
"Everybody thinks I sit at home all day and write wedding songs," McCain joked to the audience. "And I do."
McCain played some more songs about love and life: "I’ve Seen a Love," "I Want It All" and "Ghosts of Jackson Square."
Midway through the set things started to pick up with "Gramercy Park Hotel" and "One Thing Left to Do." The mostly middle-aged audience clapped and swayed in rhythm and hooted in approbation as McCain shamelessly dangled the high notes.
As the show was nearing an end McCain engaged the audience for parenting advice, sharing his recent experiences with his three young children. A crowd member informed a disappointed McCain that embarrassingly adoring his daughter’s future suitors will not, as he was hoping, scare them away.
"I’ll tell her, ‘When’s [that boy] coming back, I really liked him!’" McCain joked.
They finished the set by covering "Lucky One" by Anders Osborne before ending with the ever-popular "I’ll Be," which was effectively a sing-along throughout. A standing ovation followed for an obviously grateful McCain and Shields, who left the stage for two minutes before surrendering to the applause and emerging to play "Shooting Stars" for an encore.
In an interview before the show McCain talked about his past hits: "I’ll Be" and "I Could Not Ask for More."
"The anomaly was the pop success," McCain said. "We had this weird little detour where all of a sudden there were songs on the radio and we were playing pop shows. It was fun, but it was like I would trip into this weird bizarro world where you were playing on television shows and doing all of this stuff and you’re like, ‘Wow!’"
McCain said that he is currently working on another album with Maia Sharp and he doesn’t plan on letting up in writing and performing.
"I can’t image not doing it," he said. "I’m probably too dumb to quit."
Asked if he preferred a smaller venue like Harlow’s to larger shows, McCain noted the differences, but he said you have to love all of it.
"When you’re playing on the festival stage, playing for the big crowds…the intimacy is definitely not there," he said. "It’s sort of like you’re talking to a 5-year-old. It’s like, ‘How are you!? Hello!’
"This is much more conversational. You can kind of read how the crowd’s doing."
Michele Padgett, 48, was surprised to hear so many songs she liked but never heard of before.
"I hear the hits on the radio, but I don’t ever actually buy the CD…and [I] miss all this good music," she said.
Kelly Haug, 40, has been a longtime fan of McCain’s. She thought this show was particularly special.
"He can do an album with the whole production of all his musicians and then strip it down to just the bare bones of the guitar and the saxophone and still be able to blow the audience away," she said. "It was worth every dime."
Gabriel Carrillo, 27, has also been a fan of McCain’s for more than a decade and was especially touched by "Walk with You."
"Even though I don’t have children it moves me because I can see how important the connection between one person and another person can be," he said.
Like Padgett, Celina Spencer, 24, was surprised to discover so many songs she never heard.
"What stuck out most to me was how much I liked his other songs that aren’t as popular," she said. "I kind of want to go and check them out, maybe even buy a CD."
You can listen to all of the songs McCain performed, in the order they were played, here.