WPA - concert review

Two shows at two different venues.  From a three-piece to a five-piece band .  WPA played at both WYEP and Diesel on the South Side November 7th. Despite getting up at 5:30 a.m. to begin the drive from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, the core group of members from WPA (Luke Bulla, Sean Watkins and Glen Phillips) performed and answered questions at a WYEP Studio Session during the Noon hour.  WPA did an acoustic performance of a handful of songs from their debut release "Works Progress Administration".  Each WPA member took a turn on lead vocals as well as answering questions.  After the on-air broadcast the studio audience was treated to an encore. A singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who says she comes to Pittsburgh often, Erin McKeown, opened for WPA at Diesel.  She performed 10 songs in an almost 45-minute set, while alternating between the electric guitar and electric piano. Half of the songs were from her latest release "Hundreds of Lions", including the title song and "Santa Cruz".  McKeown ended her set by fulfilling two requests: "Melody" and inviting audience participation on "La Petite Mort". WPA, as a five-piece (Bulla, Watkins and Phillips with Sebastian Steinberg on bass and Jerry Roe on drums) came on stage at 8 p.m.  The fast paced 1-hour and 20-minute set included 17 songs and a much deserved and well received 2 song encore.  WPA's music can not be clearly defined. It's part Americana, part Bluegrass, part Folk and part mixture of everything else.  You can hear the influences of the core member's past experiences with Lyle Lovett, Nickel Creek and Toad the Wet Sprocket.  To prove the point, let's look at a sampling of the WPA setlist that evening. WPA began their show by launching quickly into five songs from "Works Progress Administration": "Always Have My Love", "End This Now", "Paralyzed", "Cry For You", and "Rise Up".  Then the core members took turns doing various songs from their repertoires, in between some WPA songs. "Solar Flare" (Phillips) "I Feel The Blues Moving In" (Bulla choice of a Del McCoury song) "Already Gone" (WPA, Watkins lead) a sad song sung by Watkins that he originally placed on GarageBand "Drive By" (Phillips) "Whatever I Fear" (Toad the Wet Sprocket, Phillips changed to acoustic guitar) "Pink Triangle" (a Weezer song, Watkins took lead on) "Good As Ever" (WPA with the full band) "Somebody More Like You" (Nickel Creek) "Remember Well" (WPA, a touching song penned by Bulla, with Bulla switching from fiddle to acoustic guitar) Watkins performed a song written by Phillips "A Wedding or a Wake" (WPA bluegrass tinged track) Nine songs from "Works Progress Administration" (mainly omitting songs that Sara Watkins would sing lead on), with the other portion of the set balanced with songs from the core group members from their previous groups, their solo work, or songs they just liked to perform. The first song of the encore, "Cherokee Shuffle" featured the picking of Bulla and Watkins.  The night ended with a version of Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" and a standing ovation. Each of the core members took turns singing lead and singing songs written by other members of the group.  Bulla was a stand out on fiddle, vocals and in the amount of passion he displayed.  At the end of the evening, Phillips thanked the audience for coming out to see them, even though they probably didn't know what to expect from WPA.  Their playing was tight in both the 3- and 5- piece ensemble, despite the fact membership in WPA, outside of the core group of 3, can vary depending on the show.   "Works Progress Administration" by WPA is one of my top releases of 2009 and after seeing WPA perform many of the tracks live, I'm really looking forward to hearing more of what WPA can share with us musically in the future. Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host