Despite a brush with the Billboard Top 200, a spot in an Obama 2008 campaign ad, and notable contributions to shows like Grey’s Anatomy and How I Met Your Mother, The Weepies have succeeded in maintaining a relatively low profile since their debut album was released seven years ago. It all began back in 2001 with a fortuitous encounter at Club Passim – the legendary Cambridge, MA folk mecca where musician Deb Talan was in attendance to see likeminded songwriter Steve Tannen perform in support of his own solo career. Like so many musical unions, the connection between the two was immediate and undeniable, and the homespun acoustic ditties they so effortlessly began to write – often whimsical and almost always reflective – found a home in the heart of just about everybody who’s ever suffered a broken heart and contemplated calling it quits.
Having an awareness of this backstory made The Weepies’ November 6th appearance at Tupelo Music Hall feel all the more momentous; it’s not often that an act in possession of such distinguished credentials – and nearly universal acclaim – makes a stop at a venue with a total capacity of less than 250 people. Additionally, it should be mentioned that Talan and Tannen have been on a touring sabbatical these past four years, eschewing time on the road to focus on their marriage and raising a child. Things have evidently changed since then, as they rolled into town on November 6th with a toddler and a 6-month old in tow. When one also considers that Tupelo tends to favor artists who are either regional favorites (such as Beatlejuice, which was, until recently, fronted by erstwhile Boston singer Brad Delp) or former industry giants taking a lap around the nostalgia track (Crash Test Dummies, Gin Blossoms) it seemed almost too good to be true that a band with such relevance in the here and now would choose a suburban town of 25,000 for a concert.
Yet on their 36-date nationwide tour, The Weepies did indeed make a stop in Londonderry, NH – a small New England community that felt like a perfectly natural fit for The Weepies’ cozy musings on love and loss. The crowd was representative of the surrounding environs, a mixture of aging boomers, families with young children, and even a few hipster-types whose edgier aesthetic wouldn’t have been so noteworthy had the show been held 45 miles to the southeast in Boston. Housed in a farmhouse that was for many years the site of a major antiques dealer, Tupelo’s country charm and rustic ambiance made for a particularly intimate setting to see a Weepies show – the main hall had just one aisle with only 12 rows of chairs on either side. The small stage looked relatively unadorned, with the exception of a giant Persian rug and several white candles perched atop the band’s amplifiers.
The show felt like a family affair from the moment the lights went down, as opening strummer Greg Tannen (Steve’s brother) set the tone with a set of quietly introspective folk songs. Only Tannen and keyboardist Andrew Sherman occupied the stage for the eight-song set, with the exception being “Vegas Baby,” in which Tannen invited his brother and sister-in-law onstage – to shockingly scant applause – for vocal harmony duties. The audience was eerily well-behaved throughout, though Tannen was able to loosen them up with some banter in between songs; the best came just before “Bad Love,” which he prefaced by stating, “I was going out with this girl, but then we broke up. This one is called ‘Bad Love’.”
After a brief intermission, The Weepies took the stage with a six-piece band that included drums, bass, keyboards, and additional guitar. The group opened up their portion of the show with the leadoff track from Be My Thrill, “Please Speak Well of Me.” Drummer Frank Lenz and part-time Weepie Meg Toohey took care of all the clapping and leg slapping parts while Deb and Steve sang together in seamless harmony. “Can’t Go Back Now,” and “I Was Made For Sunny Days” were other highlights from the early portion of the band’s performance, as the former’s bittersweet reflections on getting older provided a pleasant counterbalance to the latter’s pronouncement of finding love with that perfect somebody.
Folk is still a storyteller’s genre, and The Weepies’ concise songs – normally no more than 3½ minutes in length – were punctuated with several amusing bits and anecdotes about the tunes’ origins. Steve preceded “Riga Girls” with a story about the time Deb walked in to find him frantically trying to remove a porn virus from the home computer. The title track from Be My Thrill apparently came about as the result of Talan and Tannen’s only major fight as a married couple. Elsewhere, there were comments about the New England foliage (“You’ve dropped your leaves, New Hampshire!”) and the idiosyncrasies of bringing your entire family with you on the tour bus (“This is our son Theo’s first concert ever!”).
The 19-song set drew from all corners of The Weepies’ discography, including “Nobody Knows Me at All” and “Gotta Have You” from 2006’s Say I Am You, and a lushly harmonized rendition of “Antarctica” from the aforementioned Hideaway. There were an amazing number of instrument changes throughout the night, with Deb even pulling out the ukulele for the melancholic “Just Blue.” The mix in the hall was near-perfect from song to song, creating a perfect aural balance of acoustic guitars, layered vocals, and pristine keyboard textures. The Weepies closed out their set with a reassuring version of “Not a Lullaby,” Deb’s honeyed lead vocals made all the more comforting by Steve’s dreamy harmonies. As the band left the stage, the crowd rose to its feet for the first time all night. After a transient break, The Weepies obliged the audience’s approval with a one-song encore, an unsuspectingly ominous performance of “Little Bird.”
The joy, love, and warmth of The Weepies’ music seeps through every song they write, and watching these cuts performed live validated not only Talan and Tannen’s passion for music, but also for one another. The evening was a little underwhelming in terms of length (the group’s set, including the encore, was over and done with in just 90 minutes), but it was an absolute delight to behold a group of people who so clearly relished one another’s company and performed with such dexterous musicianship at the same time.