By Anna Billy | 12 May, 2023
I believe a Saturday night is well spent if it is at a concert - there is something about the freedom of the night which makes the Sunday Scaries all the less intimidating. On April 29th 2023, I was fortunate enough to spend my evening with Sam MacPherson on his debut headline tour: “Powerlines.” 7th Street Entry is a small venue tied to the iconic Minneapolis establishment, First Avenue, but the intimacy of the 250 capacity venue allows a connectivity between audience and artist. The room unites into a rather large friend group where jokes are cracked, secrets are divulged, and the simple pleasure of being in each other’s company is enjoyed.
It is apparent MacPherson’s audience matches his character - there is a softness to the crowd. Settling into the show for the evening, his fans gather around the front of the stage. They are not squished together shoulder to shoulder, but give one another enough room to gently sway to the silky melodies of each song. MacPherson fans attentively listen to each song in reverence and hang onto his every word as his voice carries throughout the room. 7th Street is eager to learn about the making of each track and revel in the fact that we are privy to his most deep, inner thoughts. While the silence is startling at times, it is clear the room is star-struck by MacPherson. MacPherson is evidently determined to give the audience the show they want, constantly interacting and checking in with the room. A fan even shouts, “Hopefully we don’t scare you away,” to which Sam laughs into the microphone, “so far, so good.”
MacPherson and his band, composed of his brother Jack MacPherson on lead guitar and Lucas Bidran on drums, gently guide the audience through the set. Sectioned into three acts, MacPherson’s set builds a continuous energy. During Act One (which I will name Melancholy), MacPherson and his band work in unison to emulate the devastation of heartache, doubt, and worry. While singing “Forget I Exist,” Bidran closely watches MacPherson’s vocals to embellish the drama building towards the chorus while Jack’s eyes screw shut, breathing the desolation of the song into each chord. It is at this moment, the audience begins singing the chorus back - a first of the evening. A small smile tugs at the corner of MacPherson’s lips and he encourages the crowd to keep going. As the audience gains more confidence, the louder the whole room becomes.
After a few more songs MacPherson gives a beautiful and heartfelt speech about how grateful he is to work as a musician. He jokes “[knowing that you are here to support me tonight] makes this job not feel like a scam.” He even nods towards his fan demographics asking for the crowd to cheer if they are having a good time and then subsequently asks “all the boyfriends who were dragged here tonight” to cheer if they are enjoying themselves too. His understated humor diffuses the intensity of his music easily. He strikes a balance between his comedic presence and his composed stature; he belongs on a stage - comfortable enough to be perceived and be in the spotlight, but humble enough to keep an ego at bay.
As the tension of Melancholy ebbs and flows, Act Two (which I will title Resolution) seamlessly begins. 7th Street is reintroduced to Mikey Ferrari - MacPherson’s tour opener and long time friend - during this act. Resolution captures the sorrow of Act One but hints at what is to come in Act Three. Playing “Solar Flare” with just his guitar, MacPherson settles into the unnerving intimacy sometimes uncomfortable intimacy of the venue. The stage rests above the general floor where attendees comfortably place their hands next to the speakers; no barriers, no ability to hide. While “Solar Flare” captures the understated beauty of a close loved one, MacPherson’s duet with Ferrari “Am I Even Living Anymore” speaks to their acceptance of life’s complications. Instead of refusing to engage and tackle the difficulties laid ahead, Ferrari and MacPherson ponder a larger question: what constitutes a meaningful life? Their voices meld together - MacPherson’s polished vocals, sweet like honey, complement the resonance in Ferrari’s voice. Singing lines like “All you do is try to figure out / What could cause this / It's a constant state of giving in” it is impossible to not be captivated.
By Act Three (Freedom), 7th Street is energized. We have exposed our vulnerabilities and shared intimacies throughout Acts One and Two; we are in desperate need of a change of pace. Starting with “Safe to Say,” MacPherson shares the deeper meaning of the final track off Powerlines: despite the world’s cruelty, he urges the audience to recognize the luxury of having support systems and people who keep you grounded. Lyrically, his songs in Freedom shift into a more warm and grounded space. “Stretch” was the most invigorating song of his set, almost solely composed of Jack MacPherson’s guitar riff in the chorus. Bidran’s ability to continuously ride the toms to intensify the upbeat, bubbly tune while Ferrari and MacPherson on acoustic guitar strike each note with a fierce energy, creating an electric buzz that convinced the crowd to do more than just sway back and forth. Arms were lifted high and fans were jumping up and down, rejoicing in the change of tempo.
Sam MacPherson’s gentle demeanor coaxed the crowd out of their shells, encouraging them to take on a new life. The gradual swell of each act culminating into an explosive conclusion speaks volumes to the thought and intention MacPherson put into creating his setlist. As he stated in previous interviews the setlist “w[ould] be pretty dynamic… there w[ould] be something for everyone.” As the “Powerlines” tour continues, MacPherson’s enigmatic charm will follow him from city to city, growing his following exponentially.