Brandeis’ got talent

September 21, 2018

We need to prioritize arts and performance spaces on campus. As a gloomy institution in an even gloomier town, it’s absolutely necessary that we have people and places bringing back life and light. We need more things like Stein Night.

Founded a few years ago by Michael Harlow ’19, a student and one-half of the band Late Night Thoughts, Stein Night has grown into an opportunity for students to perform, innovate and experiment with music. It doesn’t always work, but it’s not supposed to. Stein Night follows the open-mic format: anyone that signs up can go onstage and play for 15 minutes. It allows for fascinating, entertaining unpredictability—you never know what’s next, and there’s something really compelling about that.

Last Friday, we got to hear jazz, rock, bluegrass, R&B—and even an Italian aria. The range of performances, the diversity of style and the quality of our student artists proved that Brandeis has got talent—and that these kinds of spaces are vital to the well-being of this institution.

Things started off with “In the Mudd,” a five-piece jazz band. Any chance to hear live jazz on campus is worth it, and “In the Mudd” didn’t disappoint. With performers on piano, drums, bass, saxophone and vocals, the band did a good job of working together. I especially liked the blending of singer Maya Kattler-Gold’s ’21 voice and the saxophone; they played off each other without drowning either one out. “In the Mudd” provided great grooves, and an excellent sax solo, that I wasn’t expecting and hope to hear more of.

I was impressed—even a little surprised—by how supportive the crowd was. After every performance people would always clap and cheer enthusiastically. This is important for a creative, experimental place because we want there to be encouragement and support even if the performer had trouble. There needs to be room to fail, and Stein Night had that too.

The second act was impressive in a wholly different way. Eli Kengmana ’19 went up with just his guitar and began playing intense, intricate songs, as if he was playing an entire song with all of its parts on just his guitar. Kengmana would pause in between songs and shake out his hands from how intense the stress was on his fingers. There weren’t any vocals, but we didn’t need any; the crowd became spellbound pretty quickly. I hope we get to hear from Kengmana again.

A few acts later, Late Night Thoughts played. I’d never seen them live before, and I have to admit, the popular student group finally won me over. The duo, composed of Brian Rauch ’19 and Harlow, traded off on vocals while both playing guitar. We heard a cover of Daniel Caesar’s “Best Part” and an original unreleased track. Their last song had the whole crowd clapping to the beat in unison.

Immediately after, first-year Ashley Kamal ’22 took the stage and blew everyone away. Starting with an Alicia Keys cover on piano, Kamal demonstrated a considerable vocal range. Then she moved over to guitar, covering Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” I’d never heard that song on guitar before, and I was shocked how well she pulled it off. She closed with a rendition of The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” that left me wanting more. Hopefully she’ll play at many Stein Nights to come.

Before ending around 1 a.m., we got another surprise. One of the last acts to go on was a three-piece bluegrass outfit led by Jake Sibley ’19. I have to confess, I was getting a little tired of the singer-songwriters, so seeing people going on with a cello and a violin was exciting. Maybe it’s because I secretly love bluegrass, or I was just physically exhausted by that point, but I really enjoyed Sibley and Co.’s performance and hope to see them more.

There were some negatives about Stein Night. The first is… well, The Stein. It’s a terrible, terrible music venue. Musicians were constantly having to compete with the employees yelling for people to come get their orders—“Sarah!”—and at one point the manager even took the mic from a poor performer to tell people to pay attention and get their food. Not ideal for the quieter type musicians, who couldn’t possibly compete with the din of drunken frat boys or exasperated employees.

Give student music a better place! Like Chum’s. Chum’s needs to have more going on. It’s an on-campus space with a stage, and lights—wouldn’t it be cool if more things were going on there? Chum’s even serves food. Why are we doing this at the Stein?

Stein Night is a great idea. For the good of Brandeis, we need to have cultural events like this to gather around. We need to sustain and foster open-mic opportunities like this—and give them the right spaces to flourish in too. Looking at you, Chum’s.

The next Stein Night is scheduled for Sept. 28. Interested student musicians can sign up on the WBRS: Student Music Facebook Page.

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