December 18th, 2009
The Binge was back at the Kennedy Center on Friday night to witness local pop-rock sensation (she’s only 18 years old) Margot MacDonald ride the wave of momentum associated with being nominated for five 2009 Wammies (Washington Area Music Awards) onto the Millennium Stage. A quick glance at said stage informed me that this would be an atypical set for the young artist as I noticed a couple of acoustic guitars, an upright bass and what looked like a big wooden block surrounded by cymbals. My understanding is that Margot’s gigs are usually of the “plugged-in” variety, incorporating more traditional “rock band” instruments such as electric guitars, electric bass and a full drum set.
Tonight however, the singer/songwriter was accompanied by K.C. Hatton on acoustic guitar, Trevor Olexy on upright bass and Danny Schwartz on the aforementioned wooden block, which is actually an instrument called a cajon. If you haven’t heard of it, a cajon is basically a box drum that is slapped with the hands. Schwartz sat straddling the instrument so that the striking surface was between his legs. I, for one, have never seen anything like it and was quite honestly surprised at the volume and depth of the sounds it created.
Strange percussion instruments aside, when Margot took the stage, she introduced herself to the crowd and informed us that this wasn’t her first time performing at the Kennedy Center. Apparently she was here when she was 10, playing the part of a street urchin in the musical “Carmen”. Given the somewhat older crowd in attendance, undoubtedly not her usual audience, Margot mentioned that she was probably dressed quite a bit differently tonight than she was back then, a joking reference to the short skirt and cowboy boots which made up her current stage attire.
The quartet played through a very entertaining, hour long set of songs from Margot’s solo albums, with some interesting and exciting covers sprinkled throughout. In addition to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, the band managed an improbable acoustic cover of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” with vocals so impressive that I’m not sure even Robert Plant himself could match them (at this point in his career that is). The highlight however, was the finale…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In addition to Margot’s powerful vocals and notable guitar playing, her band was equally impressive. Hatton seemed to play his acoustic guitar with a sort of Latin flair that reminded me of Santana. This was especially evident during two particular numbers when Margot and K.C. performed sans rhythm section, resulting in a fantastic duet of guitar playing overlaid only by Margot’s striking vocals, which oftentimes reminded me of Evanescence’s Amy Lee. When onstage, Olexy was proficient on the upright bass and I’ve already mentioned the impressive percussion by Schwartz on the cajon.
The band even tried to get into the holiday spirit when Danny mentioned that there were Margot MacDonald cds for sale in the lobby. Due to the nature of the free Millennium Stage concerts and unbeknownst to Mr. Schwartz, apparently hocking your wares is against Kennedy Center rules. When Margot politely leaned over and mentioned to him that “you can’t do that”, Schwartz got an uncomfortable looking smile on his face and quickly recovered, saying “well in that case…happy holidays everybody”. The resulting laughter seemed to endear the band to their audience all the more.
As with any great performance, the time flew by and the show was over all too soon. Before leaving for good though, Margot mentioned that she wanted to try something special for us as a sort of finale/encore. As the three members of her band left the stage, the singer explained that she’d been given a “loop pedal” as an early Christmas present and wanted to try it out for us tonight. Using only this device, her voice and a rhythm created by clapping her hands, Margot performed an astonishing, multi-layered cover of Imogen Heap’s “Just for Now”. By far the highlight of the evening, this amazing solo performance has to be seen to be believed (see it for yourself here: Margot MacDonald at Kennedy Center). Margot MacDonald proved herself to be quite a talent on the Millennium Stage tonight, despite her relative youth. If you get the opportunity, I recommend you check her out.