Concert Review: Cassandra Kubinski @ Caffe Lena, 09/27/2023

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Celebrating her latest record, The Saratoga Sessions, Cassandra Kubinski delighted the exuberant audience at Caffe Lena on Wednesday, Sept. 27th, with a sold-out release party. Not only did Kubinski command her crowd the entire night, yielding a stunning blend of pop, rock, and soul, she deftly demonstrated just how well her music works in a band setting, as well as a solo one.

Opening the show with “The Sound,” Cassandra quickly swelled the plaintive beginning into a full-fledged production. It was clear within 30 seconds: her band kicks ass. Though the vocals were a bit quiet, she found her power quickly, transitioning smoothly into the next tune, “Fierce.” Elevating the energy further with this piece, Kubinski and company—James Mastrianni on guitar, vocals, and keyboards; Michael Cassels on bass; Todd Hanhurst on drums—gave a masterclass on dynamics and groove.

Cassandra Kubinski and Michael Cassels.

Playing through the rest of the record in order, Cassandra continued to show how extraordinary an arrangement and production team her and James Mastrianni make. It wasn’t until “The Phoenix,” a song Kubinski played solo, that the audience truly began grasping the depths of her range. And, while the band stepped off for that tune, they were quickly back on for “The Music Lives On,” another song that featured a great build-up.

One of the things that really stuck out in the mind of this concertgoer was the appreciation and love that Kubinski has for her community. Thanking practically everyone involved in the new album—even going so far as to thank a multitude of small businesses that helped her along the way—it was clear to all who witnessed the show just how happy Kubinski was to be celebrating. Community is the name of the game for her, and this was made even more evident when she performed a tune of Mastrianni’s “Tell Me All Your Thoughts on Love.”

From left to right: James Mastrianni, Cassandra Kubinski, Michael Cassels.

Though I found it peculiar to end the first set with a solo performance of “This Is the Time,” written by Billy Joel, Kubinski flowed that energy into the beginning of the second set. After a nice pairing of songs, “On My Way Home,” a slow waltz, with “Wife,” both dealing with different aspects of marriage, Cassandra brought up Victoria Paterson for a stunning version of “Burn it Down.” Paterson’s violin had a few brief spots to shine through, providing moments of support and lead for a song filled with powerful lyrics and a dynamic vocal delivery.

Whether she is behind the piano or not, such as in the tune “Still Breathing,” she delivered the goods the entire night. And, while the band was solid on every track they performed, two of my favorites were near the end of the night: “You Got Me,” a very playful tune (with a lead kazoo part?!), and “Not So Different.” The drums and bass on these were TIGHT! They were tight the whole damn night.

Cassandra Kubinski (left) and Victoria Paterson (right).

Getting your audience to do a successful sing-along can be difficult. Still, Kubinski pulled it off twice, first with the aforementioned “Not So Different” and then with the closer “Fortune Favors the Bold.” What made the latter more special, as she explained, was that this event marked the first time people heard the tune. A strange choice to end a night with a solo-performed tune, she showed once more that with enough conviction, she can pull off anything she chooses.

Cassandra Kubinski is one of those performers who only gets better in a live setting. And when I say better, I emphatically mean it. Though her songs are well-written and produced, she kicks ass live and then some. By the end of this show, she turned this casual listener and supporter into one who can’t wait to see her perform again. If she comes to a venue near you, check her out!

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