Home > Articles > Live Reviews > Kevin So

Kevin So


Kevin So & Midnight Snack

November 6, 2005 @ Brookline Rocks!

As part of their continuing tricentennial festivities, the town of Brookline, MA brought native neighbor (So is from nearby Brighton) back to the area for a special musical celebration. So, in turn, brought his latest musical creation - a trio made up of local students from Berklee College of Music. Together, they presented a career-spanning collection of So's spiritual, and sharp-witted songs to a multi-generational audience of appreciative listeners. From the beautiful and provocative high school not-so-confidential "Abacus" to a rule-breaking encore, So showed a propensity to do things his way and to make others think about how they did theirs. In the process, he demonstrated a command of a variety of musical genres, all laced together with his thoughtful lyrics, expert mic sense, and engaging and entertaining presentation. "Wake Up Son" revealed paternally-supportive Soul while "New York City" offered a late-night R&B dream with an appropriately dirty underbelly. While "Still Got a Crush" was washed with Anita Baker-y grooves, the new "Caroline" was a simple devotional that inspired an impromptu squeal along with some younger members of the audience. As time ran down, the crowd clapped for more and, ever mindful of his audience, So delivered, leading them in a final participatory rendition of "Brighter Day" that sent everyone looking forward to the next 300years.

- Matthew S. Robinson
c. 2005, M. S. Robinson, ARR


Kevin So and Michael Jullian

October 18, 2002 @ The Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead, MA

After some time away, Michael Jullian(nee Carreras) has returned to the performance arena to rediscover his musical soul. And though the sacred confines of this UU church may have constrained him at first, by set’s end, he had reached holy heights once more. The opener, “She Shines,” was buzzy and uncertain. “Shameless” added a bit of edge, but was still dulled compared to Jullian’s past work (and incarnation). A cover of Nikka Consta’s “Mr. Nothin’” had soul, but it was borrowed. The Marley tribute “Remember What BobSaid” was irie, but foreign. A guest shot by Kevin So got the heart of a electric pop-washed version of “Lifeline” beating, and Jullian was able to keep the heart going on his own with the ever-lovely “Eyes of Wisdom” and a “funky” “Weight of the World,” in which Jullian truly opened up and showed what he was made of. When So returned, it was Jullian who knocked the cover off of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need of Love Today,” shaking the rafters with his unleashed voice and the applause that followed.
Jumping right into his hand-clapping sing-alongs, So combined Keb Mo and Chin Ho with his Asian-specific songs of identity and identification. Though “Stanley Chin” was reminiscent of Bob Seeger and Carole King, “Different” was beautifully new, even though not for So. Though his tribute to Mary J. Blige was lost in Marblehead, the Me & Thee appreciated the backhanded tribute to one of their favorite sons though So’s clever song “Standing in the Shadow of Ellis Paul.” Though “Abacus” was a bit calculated, So later let loose again for a timely duet with Jullian on “There’s a War Goin’ On.” Before this returned favor guest spot, however, So introduced his newest musical friend, Denmark’s Matts Moritz, who offered the slender “Shine” and the bouncy “Love Nothing,” both of which recalled John Anderson of Yes. After a few more duets with Jullian, So closed the night with a pianistic encore that sent everyone gently from a good night of music.

- Matthew S. Robinson
c. 2002, M. S. Robinson, ARR

Kevin So

February 3, 2001 @ The Middle East

After a soulful sojourn to Chi-town, the world’s best Asian folk singer was back…and in a big way!
With the undying support for bassist Tom Bianchi and trap-master Jason Gardner, So focused on what was to come while keeping his fans into the scene with familiar favorites. Never one to shy away from controversy (or comedy), So ripped into his side-handed tribute to Boston’s resident folk-master with his cheeky tune “In the Shadow of Ellis Paul.” Eager to get the audience into the act, So enlisted the full house for “War Going On,” a song of similarly insightful humor with a drastically different topic and a new funky electrified groove. So’s solo shots were reminiscent of James Taylor’s “Steamroller Blues” and “Song for You.” “’Til the Morning Comes” retained its Spanish beauty (even with a bit of chorizo). After tributes to D’Angelo, Sugar Ray, “Sesame Street” and fellow writing phenom Carl Cacho, So closed the set with the title track to his last CD. And while this final song was “Different,” it was enough the same to make the undulating assemblage hungry for more.

Watch for Kevin’s forthcoming CD, That Oriental Guy, coming soon.

- Matthew S. Robinson
c. 2001, M. S. Robinson, ARR


Kevin So w/ Michael Carreras

May 1, 1998 @ Club Passim, Cambridge, MA

Making my way past the down-the-block line awaiting seating for Kevin So's sold-out collaboration, I was confronted with a stage congested with instruments, including a large handful of guitars and two full drum sets. Despite the arsenal of musical tools, however, opener Michael Carreras (no relation) opted to go it alone, armed with only his guitar and a set of Leepress-on picks which were near worn down to the nub by the end of his abbreviated set. From jazzy blues to gently pulsing ballads, Carreras shared a brief selection of chorused storytellings which mixed his rich yet restrained vocals with intricate picking patterns and well-metered strumming. A highlight was his pleasurably long closer "Lifeline," which is scheduled to appear on Carreras's upcoming CD. Despite a rousing ovation, Carreras decided to quit while he was ahead and let his musical friend and host take the stage.
The packed house, voluntary word-for-word sing-alongs and well-résuméd backing personnel all made it abundantly clear that Kevin So has made an impression on the Boston music scene. With the capable assistance of backing vocalist, mandolinist and wild djembe player Eric Gerber, seven-string guitarist Paul Ehrlich, bassist Jeff Song and the four-fisted percussion of Gonzalo Silva drummer Jason Gardner and spiritual touch-master/percussion guru Bob Moses, So grabbed his audience and refused to let go. Firmly cognizant of the people and places which have gotten him where he is, So shared tributes both to his parents and to his musical heroes, including Paul Simon (through the very "Boxer"-esque "Five Days in Memphis") and the late Donny Hathaway and mixed the eastern tones of "Great Wall of China" with the victrola-d southern swing number "Cadillac Queen" (complete with Satchmo scat). Though there were some missed harmonies, a few tuning problems and perhaps a bit too much hammy humor, when So added the vocal powers of Joanne Cassidy (who had recently opened for Livingston Taylor at Scullers Jazz Club) and opener Michael Carreras, the musical force was undeniable. So had everyone working together for the rambling closer "Til the Morning Comes," and though the extended rhythm break became disjointed at points and made it difficult to return to the main melody, So's musical and coordinative skills warranted the standing ovation which closed the show.

- Matthew S. Robinson
© 1998 M. S. Robinson, ARR


Vance Gilbert CD Release with Kevin So and Bernice Williamson

March 2, 1998 @ The Regent Theatre, Arlington, MA

Though the introduction to the first selection was a bit uncertain and squeaky, the string duet of Kevin So's guitar and Eric Gerber's mandolin soon became more coherent and comfortable as the crowd was won-over by So's personable nature. In fact, So only took one song before inducing the full house (which he considered a "'Kumbaya' kind of crowd") into a complex sing-along. Not only was Gerber's string work a nice support, but his echoey backing vocals filled-out So's occasionally strained leads. However, it was So's intellectual and emotional understanding of his songs and their subjects which truly made his connection with the audience complete. In return, the crowd supplied Kevin with energetic harmonies during the second(!) sing-along which closed the set.
Admitting one offering to be a "schmaltzy" number, Bernice Lewis's frankness was admirable. However, despite a number of selections about everyday topics such as death, marriage and procrastination, Lewis's connection to the crowd was diluted by her nasal vibrato, her insistent short pride and her more outlandish offerings such as a bouncy, scatty(?) Steve Martin-esque tribute to Tutankhamun and a song which was "channeled" during a holistic workshop. Her attempt at collaborative performance was also a bit hard to stick to as the sing-along element of the song was a long and not well prepared.
After an intermission, Vance Gilbert took the stage, joined by Loomer Everett Pendleton, who supplied spare and quick backing guitar work and a few notable attempts at a mandolin which he had only started playing the previous Tuesday! Mixing heart-felt emotion with street sensibility and A.D.D.-fed thought processes, Gilbert also mixed new and old originals with soulful standards like "Just My Imagination," "Everybody Plays the Fool" and a slow and soulful "Jimmy Mack." From gentle ballads to raucous Folk-Rock and Gospelly a cappella, Gilbert drew from a wide array of styles and painted beautifully with each. Along the way, Gilbert also shared personal anecdotes and views which further enhanced his musical observations and stories. As he is a devoted member of the AMA (that's Academy of Model Aeronautics), it was no surprise that many of Vance's musical tales dealt with flight and the wonders and mysteries of aerial freedom. However, even on those selections which had nothing to do with flight, Gilbert's voice carried his listeners right along on lyrical wings.
As the first of a new concert series at The Regent, Vance Gilbert's official release of his new album "Shaking Off Gravity" was a great start! Be sure to watch for future performances. Call Watch City Arts at 781 647 1075 for information.

- Matt Robinson
© 1998 M. S. Robinson, ARR


Kevin So

February 25, 1998 @ Tallulah's Tap & Grille, Somerville

Making his first appearance with the combined talents of Gonzalo Silva drummer Jason Gardner, seven-string guitarist Paul Ehrlich and mandolin player Eric Gerber, Kevin So played a fun and loose set of his diverse and well-constructed tunes. Stroking and chopping at his antique f-hole, Kevin added intermittent blues harp and even a bit of well-placed choreography to his soulful, slightly scratchy voice. Along the way, the quartet was enhanced by guest vocalist Michael Carreras and beat poet Michael Kennedy. In addition to these talented Michaels, Kevin donated an insightful tribute "Dear Michael" (as in Jordan, NOT Jackson!). Despite many tuning breaks, Kevin kept the night going, only stopping for an interview about his past and his plans (see interview) and a quick pint of beer with the boys. Other than that, the concert was filled with Simon and Garfunkel/James Taylor lines and Doobie-esque layers of steady and interesting trap-work, bold mandolin and electric guitar work which was effected to mimic pedal-steel, bass and even synthesizers. There was even a tinge or two of Latin influences, including a gorgeous Spanish-versed tune called "'Til The Morning Comes." Throughout the performance, Kevin was fully cognizant of and into his musical message which he visibly strained to share with an attentive and appreciative crowd.

- Matthew S. Robinson
© 1998 M. S. Robinson, ARR


CD Review...


©2003-2005 Boston Beats






Boston Music, Boston Artist Interviews, Boston Bands