The lanky, soft-spoken Brett Dennen often plays with a full band backing him. But at The State Room last night, it was just him on stage, barefoot with a guitar, a mic and a chair that wasn’t used all night— except as a table for the singer-songwriter’s water bottle.
He approached the stage and without a word, noodled on his guitar for a moment before heading straight into his set, opening with “Ain’t Losing You” a slow song that set the tempo for most of night—a surprising development since Dennen is most known for the more peppy and upbeat songs in his catalog.
Sometimes when artists connect with their audience, as Dennen does, there’s a solemness that is carried throughout the show, not unlike a religious experience. But, not last night—in fact, before the third song began, the sold-out crowd was shouting things towards the stage, “I love you Brett Dennen!” one man shouted, “Me too!” responded several other audience members throughout the room in a Greek chorus.
Dennen didn’t do much to shut down the, er, engagement in the beginning, but soon one woman positioned towards the front who was celebrating her birthday seemed to think he was just for her—shout requests, gifting him a hat, making conversation and annoying the rest of us. Eventually, though, even she quieted down as he willingly took requests shouted at him through the whole night.
Dennen told the crowd that he had spent the day skiing Snowbird and that he’d be back again the following day, “I was was sitting on a chairlift talking to my girlfriend about how much we both love Utah,” he said. “We love the skiing, the national parks, the weird people…” he continued to crowd cheers. As the show continued, Dennen played more crowd requests occasionally joking with the requesters, “Those are both good songs,” he told two people in the crowd, “But I’m not going to play either of them.”
By the end of the night, what the crowd ended up seeing was a stripped-down showcase of a musician whose smooth and perfect acoustic guitar playing is often overshadowed by a band and the singer’s own peculiar and gravelly voice.
“I’m sorry I didn’t play ‘Ain’t No Reason’ tonight,” he told the crowd during a three-song encore of his more popular songs, including “Sydney” and “The Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog),” but, he said, “I’ll play it next time.” As if the crowd needed a reason to come back.
—photos by Natalie Simpson