Williams Musicians Alliance takes Coffeehouse outdoors

Last Thursday, the Williams Musician’s Alliance (WMA) brought the intimate magic of a Coffeehouse outdoors, taking advantage of the spring weather to perform during dinnertime. A compact list of students from all class years, most of whom performed multiple covers and original songs, charmed a laid-back audience of students lounging on Paresky steps and Chapin Lawn.

Max Sopher ’17 opened the show, covering a pair of indie rock staples: “This is the Last Time” by The National, and “Mount Wroclai” by Beirut. A talented multi-instrumentalist, Sopher took a minimalist approach to the covers, playing piano and singing to add a somber and brooding touch to the songs.

Sopher was followed by Daniel Fisher ’18, whose acoustic covers regularly entrance Coffeehouse attendees. Fisher’s style is pure folk, characterized by playing each song in a deliberate, contemplative fashion. He opened with Dave Van Ronk’s version of Traditional’s “In the Pines,” which was followed by the Handsome Family’s “The Sad Milkman” and Bob Dylan’s acoustic song “I Was Young When I Left Home” Fisher’s solemn choice of style and resonant voice were perfectly suited for the outdoor venue, echoing grandly off of the mountains.

Ian Shen ’19, another Coffeehouse veteran, performed a pair of covers, including “Shankhill Butchers” by the Decembrists. Self-described by Shen as “spooky,” the bassist was true to his word, with a voice even deeper than his instrument as he sang of a band of murderous butchers who strike fear in the hearts of misbehaving children. He then played “Undergrowth” by Caligula’s Horse and “I Think I’ll Disappear Now” by the Crash Test Dummies.

May Congdon ’17 and Lucy Alexander ’20 performed next, brightening the mood of the evening with a cheery cover Vance Joy’s “Riptide.” The pair’s clear, soprano voices each held their own on their respective verses, while combining over the choruses to create beautiful, lilting harmonies. And, of course, Alexander’s ukulele was the perfect accompaniment to the feel-good song.

Up next was Dzung Pham ’20, a classical guitarist whose talent has been impressing at Coffeehouses all year. Though Pham was quite soft-spoken at the mic, the passion of his music spoke for itself. Pham handled the complex rhythms and dynamic changes in Paco Peña‘s flamenco piece “En las Cuevas” with aplomb, switching between strumming and picking as if it were as easy as taking a breath.

The good-natured pair of Taran Dugal ’20 and Noah Nsangou ’20 performed next, each singing and complementing each other by playing electric and acoustic guitar, respectively. They opened with “FourFiveSeconds,” originally performed by Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney. “FourFiveSeconds” was followed by a smooth cover of “Redbone” by Childish Gambino.

Steven Yannacone ’17 came later. At 15 minutes, Yannacone’s set was the longest of the evening. He performed several pieces from his haunting concept album Journey Through Darkness (working title), which he composed and wrote himself, beginning last summer. Similar to the Decemberists’ 2009 narrative album Hazards of Love in scope, Journey Through Darkness details the fantastical journey of an old man navigating the trials of betrayal and heartbreak while journeying through a shadowy underworld. The influences of grandiose alt-rock bands like Radiohead and Muse were evident in both the arrangement of the pieces and the dramatic, sustained crescendos of the vocal parts that kept the audience riveted. Yannacone sang the part of the protagonist while playing piano and was joined briefly by Brad Clark ’18, who played a supporting role.

Ben Morton ’19 closed off the show on a bright note, playing the ukulele and singing along to “Follow Me” by Uncle Cracker. Morton’s infectious cheer and comfort onstage provided a feel-good conclusion to WMA’s spring season.

Yannacone, who has led WMA since the spring of his freshman year, was satisfied with what will likely be the last Coffeehouse he ever performs in as well as the development of the group throughout his tenure. “We were missing a few of our stars tonight in the band Purple Haze, as well as Mackenzie [Snyder ’18] and Chris [McLaughlin ’18],” he commented. “But we nonetheless had a stellar lineup playing songs from pop to folk to flamenco. Although the old can only get so loud, the passion of the singers doubles the sound in our ears and in our hearts.”

Williams Musicians Alliance, led by Steven Yannacone, dazzled the audience on Paresky Lawn. Photo courtesy of Sarah Ritzmann