Concert Review: Sirsy with Steve Hartmann @ Caffe Lena, 03/31/2023
I have one question for the universe: What took me so long to see them? The universe answers, “You’re a dope.”
Seriously, though. My schedule finally aligned with that of Sirsy, and I was able to catch them at Café Lena with their acoustic-storytelling concert. I did not really know what to expect from all the good chatter I’d heard and read about them. They did not disappoint. The place was packed with Sirsy’s extended family and friends. I had never been to a Sirsy gig and only read about them in the TU or Nippertown. This talented, married singer-songwriting team keeps you enthralled while making it all look so easy. Melanie Krahmer is everything a singer should be: poised, unabashedly funny, energetic, frenetic, and emotive, and she manages to conjure a vibe to hook you into the story. She also plays keys, drums, bass, flute, and other fun instruments! Rich Libutti is her steadfast partner, driver of ‘Axl’ their tour vehicle, straight man, and guitar/bass player. He, too, is what you would want for a stage mate. He reacts to her and openly reflects on the emotions of their songs and his evident love for her talent. I sat behind Krahmer, so I could not see her face, but I only guessed he was a mirror of her expressions. That or she was crossing her eyes to put him off balance. She did mention they used to have a band, but those folks left because she and Rich are “crazy.” The crowd and I (and the three other newbies I brought to the show) thoroughly enjoyed their songs, stories, banter, and exchanges with the audience.
Sirsy opened their first set with the day’s new release, Seven Seas. The story about its genesis, the “little volcanoes” in all relationships, the struggles of this couple through the quarantine times, and love as large as the “seven seas” starts you off on your musical story-filled journey. Added to the first set were Fine and Goner. Fine gives the duo another chance to change tempos into a rock-torch song delivery ruminating about a failed romance. The story around the love song, Goner, is particularly funny. The song started with a post-it note, in clear view of Libutti, who somehow maintained his composure and residence around someone who could be plotting his demise amid their Covid-imposed forced confinement.
Krahmer pulled out the stops and gave an energetic rendition of Someone to Love by Queen. Having grown up in a house with music, she gravitated towards rock and roll and Broadway musicals. A match made in heaven for her oft-described powerhouse vocals. No screecher, Krahmer stays on key and on the pitch yet puts her own fills on this tune everyone knows and sings along to.
Included in the two sets, with an intermission for the crowd to get snacks, drinks, and, dare I say, catch a breath for the next batch of stories and paces this dynamic duo was going to put us through, were many from their catalog. Of note in the second set were: Death of Me, Hell No, and Fireflies. Fireflies was the first tune Krahmer played for her father, who called it “magical.” I have to agree, as it brought me right back to my youth, watching those little lights flitting around the 518 backyards. Hell, No is some internal self-back talk, admonishing that mean-spirited little voice tearing you down to shut the hell up! (yup – been there, now I have a real t-shirt!) Death of Me is a tune reminiscent of early punk/rock songs, a la Blondie or Benatar standing up for self against those oft experienced done me wrong situations.
This show was not only about sharing the Sirsy partnership and talents; the duo excitedly shared the stage with Erin Harkes, friend and comedian, to sing the fruits of the Krahmer-Harkes quarantine face-time collaboration, End of the World. They also pulled Steve Hartmann up on stage to join them in Astronauts.
What is a show without merch, that juicy opportunity to meet and greet and thank the talent? I chatted with Libutti about our possible shared RPI/Sage time in Troy (he did not divulge dates, smart guy, as he could have gotten into some ageist trouble there.) I did grab all five Sirsy CDs ‘cause you know I need to HAVE the hard stuff, lest the machines/companies take over our virtual music libraries. I’ll put them in rotation with my other faves in the coming days.
Steve Hartmann was an unexpected treat. Often you do not know the opener and sit, with some trepidation, hoping you can survive them. That is not the case here. Hartmann immediately put the crowd at ease with a sip of wine and a toast, repeated through the show to get some chuckles. Hartmann’s crystalline voice rings through his touching songs, whispers, and melodic shouts. He shared the poignant story of his birth and survival of a failed rescue ‘copter flight in Vietnam as an introduction to his song, My Family. I was too thunderstruck to cry but I certainly could have. Hartmann set a poem to music and created the song Not. Another life lesson born out of comparing ourselves to others or feeling that we are less than we should be. The Celtic tune fits the words and delivery in the way some Irish ballads provoke emotion. Another re-affirming message can be heard in the song, You Are. Again Hartmann seeks to lift up those who trudge through their life/work and answer their questions about their impact on others. A real treat was when Krahmer joined Hartmann to sing Hallelujah. How often have you heard that classic at a rock show? I’ve been to lots, and not once have I heard it live. Their two voices finally brought home to me the excitement surrounding this song. Cin Cin, Steve, Cin Cin!
This was a great experience and one that I would do all over again, even in another location. Café Lena is always a great venue, with friendly volunteers, awesome sound, Lena’s chocolate chip cookies, drinks, and food to nosh. This concert was live-streamed, and if you listen closely, you can hear the members of the crowd interacting with the artists. Become a member of the Café or at least subscribe to live streaming. Go to: caffelena.org to see what the hubbub is about.
The best compliment for this show was given by my offspring, who, when questioned about seeing a big name coming to a big venue this summer, said, “Nah. We’d rather go to another underground concert like the ones you dragged us to Friday. They are way better.”
Ahhh, my work here is done!