This is a review of Kevin So and Bryan Dunn at Liberty Heights Tap Room on Saturday, January 8, 2005.
I had begun to load the moving van in preparation to move back to Austin, Texas after spending five years in New York City. The last performance I attended before driving out of town was a Bryan Dunn / Kevin So bill at Liberty Heights Tap Room in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood. It was a cold night and an out-of-the-way venue, but the Tap Room featured some good food and libation, and catching one last Bryan Dunn (a long-time friend and great songwriter) show was certainly a worthwhile cause. I was not familiar with Kevin So's music, but on Bryan's recommendation I made it to the venue early enough to hear Kevin's set.
Not since the summer of 2000 has a relative unknown impressed me like Kevin So, and that was when I spent a number of evenings watching Norah Jones and Jesse Harris awe small crowds in small NYC clubs mere months before the two swept the Grammys. In front of this comfortable, unsuspecting Tap Room crowd Kevin created musical moments rarely found in intimate club gigs. His presence, songs, and onstage energy brought to mind what attendees of early Van Morrison or Ray Charles shows may have felt. A Kevin So audience feels like it is witnessing something special, beyond just another show on another night.
Kevin took the stage with a strong air of confidence, and without an iota of arrogance. Even as he moved somewhat awkwardly from guitar to piano on the small stage, stumbling slightly, he visually reminded everyone that he's just a guy—an average Joe in tattered jeans, hiking boots, t-shirt, and donning a bed-headdish plume of hair.
On that night, "Chinatown" was a remarkable moment in the show, for its compelling tale of his childhood spent there. It may also be the first autobiographical blues song written about growing up in Asian-America. Kevin sung from his soul, playing a Delta-blues influenced harmonica and displaying his formally and experientially trained piano playing. His piano style is loose and free, yet still highly skilled and tasteful.
Kevin has toured with and is pretty heavily influenced by Keb' Mo'. You can hear a common honesty and openness in their lyrics. Kevin writes in a transparent autobiographical manner. His songs tell stories of friends, family, relationships. His lyrics are not thick metaphors but stories like the ones you tell your own friends about your own life. It is this in-touch feeling that brings Kevin's audience back show after show to hear familiar themes filtered through his life, voice, and melodies. There is something special about hearing the familiar, especially when presented spectacularly through the talents of a truly gifted singer/songwriter. Go see Kevin So perform. You, too, will feel the "wow."