Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sotto Voce & Peter Vilardi / March 28, 2014 / Donkey Coffee

By: Christian Power, Contributor

Athens, with its flourishing music scene and abundant college population, is home to many singer-songwriters. On Friday night, Donkey Coffee was fortunate enough to host two of the town's finest. Accompanied on stage by a multi-hued cardboard donkey that was only kind of creepy, Sotto Voce (Ryan Gabos) and Peter Vilardi carried out some impressive performances.

The two friends have long been involved with performance art on campus. In addition to their musical ventures, Vilardi and Gabos have integral roles on the sketch-comedy series "Fridays Live!" and often deliver stand-up with Blue Pencil Comedy. It was very apparent that both felt at home on stage.

Vilardi served as the opening act, taking to the piano to play seven original songs, along with a cover of "Life in a Glasshouse" by Radiohead. After getting the audience's attention with the vocal-showcasing "Your Grace," he busted out the addictively catchy "Call It a Day," which was without a doubt a highlight of the night.

Not one to forgo his comedic talent, Vilardi wowed the crowd with the hilarious "Misdirection," a song driven by its spoken-word interludes that explain a commonly used joke format in stand-up. That's about as well as it can be summed up in words--it is an absolute must to hear performed live. Before introducing the Yorke-composed number, Vilardi insisted, "It's not that depressing. Just kidding, it's very depressing."

He co-wrote his final song of the night, "Off We Go," with artist Matt Munhall. Munhall will be releasing a full-length album recorded in Nashville called 700 Miles on May 6. "Off We Go" indeed reflected the professional-grade nature of Vilardi's growing singer-songwriter discography.

Sotto Voce then successfully satisfied the challenge of following up who he describes as "the best showman in Athens."

Playing a set of entirely original acoustic material along with a closing piano instrumental, Sotto Voce flawlessly executed a raw style of rapid picking and energized strumming in addition to some superb slower numbers. The rapid picking was prominently displayed on opening song "Reticent." Sotto Voce explained its origins, saying he wrote it on move-in day freshman year before his roommates arrived while imagining how great college would be.

Wikipedia tells me that Sotto Voce means to "lower the volume of one's voice for emphasis." However, the vocal performance throughout the eight songs was marked by a notable ability to prevail throughout the room. Put simply, the guy can sing.

After Vilardi returned on stage to provide supplemental vocals on "How Romantic?," Sotto Voce whipped out what he dubbed the sing-along song of the night and setlist staple, "Same Ghost," a shout-out to now-graduated friend and fellow artist Jared Henderson. It of course went over well with the engaged crowd, whose clapping hands and stomping feet joined well with the collective singing.

Gabos was originally scheduled to be supported by a different performer, but had to find someone else on short notice. I spoke to Vilardi after the show, who said he was humbled to be selected. In the same manner that Sotto Voce played alongside Same Ghost (Jared Henderson), Vilardi feels that he is accompanying Gabos in a way that will encourage their house party lineage to continue.

I asked him how he was able to prepare so easily, and Vilardi said it wasn't a challenge at all. As someone who can play many instruments (and raps under the name MC Freeman), he was excited by the opportunity to play an all-piano set. Influenced primarily by musicians like Chris Martin and Bono (but ultimately by too many artists to count), expressing himself in this fashion was something he looked forward to doing.

I was again beyond impressed at how well-written the songs by these gentlemen were. It was a great time to see these two perform and I hope they do it again soon.

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