Futurebirds & Jessica Lea Mayfield at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, OH, 5.19.10


With six members playing pedal steel guitar, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, mandolin and drums – switching off instruments and vocals throughout the set – Futurebirds have a hell of a lot of strings, but you wouldn’t mistake them for a string band. You might mistake them for a really big bar band, though. I’ll just be honest and say that their music didn’t do much for me, but their sense of humor did. A band who can play to a nearly-empty hall and still enjoy the hell out of themselves is okay in my book. The crowd was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and they were rewarded when the band kicked in three great songs at the end of their set, one led by drummer Payton Bradford who came out from behind his kit to strap on a Fender and go.

(One song was dedicated to LeBron James. “This one’s for LeBron. Maybe he’ll stay,” they said, perhaps in a bid to further endear themselves to the crowd. “He won’t,” came the reply out of the audience. The blacklash has begun. Have fun with that, King James.)

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Jessica Lea Mayfield is so laconic in speech and movement that you may sometimes feel as though you’re watching slow-motion film when you see her. This has led some to deem her bland. But Mayfield’s true talent – that of holding a microscope up to emotion, whether good, bad, ugly or indifferent – doesn’t require glitz or stagey charisma. But don’t think for a moment that Mayfield doesn’t know how to capture a catchy tune. The wordless refrain of “Kiss Me Again”, as one example, will lodge itself in your brain the first time you hear it.

Mayfield, who is impressively pale and is all skinny arms and legs, seems shy between songs, bowing her head bashfully as she thanks the audience for their cheering appreciation. But in her song subject matter and in her voice, Mayfield is bold. Though only 20 years old, she has long had an old soul self-awareness, and while she seems her age between songs, once she is playing and singing, Mayfield becomes an ancient sage, holding up a mirror to all of us as she holds one up to herself.

But a Jessica Lea Mayfield show is not a solemn occasion, partially thanks to her support band which, this evening, consisted of her brother, David, on upright bass, Richie Kirkpatrick (in unnervingly tiny shorts) on electric guitar and a drummer whose name I didn’t catch (not Anne Lillis). Kirkpatrick is sometimes caricaturish, but entertaining, in his rock and rolling, and David Mayfield is a powerhouse of energy and vitality. During the scorching crescendo of “I Can’t Lie to You, Love” (don’t let it be said that Mayfield and company don’t know how to kick it), the Mayfield brother could be seen laying on the stage, holding the bass up with his feet as eh played, then laying the bass down and beating percussion on the strings.

Perhaps Jessica Lea Mayfield’s music is not for everyone, but it’s still surprising – and disappointing – how small the audience was for the northeast Ohio native’s show. But , as seems so often the way within our little cradle of civilization, Mayfield will gain more recognition and success ass he continues to tour with friends like the Avett Brothers and the Black Keys, and then NEO will embrace her with open arms after the rest of the world warmly embraces that which was right under our noses the entire time.

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