Concert Review

Concert Review: Greg Mendez

Valentine’s Day is a day of reflection. We reflect on the people in our life that we love, have loved, and will love. Stories of varied pasts are brought to mind, and we reflect on the stories we will make in the future with our favorite people. In the thick air of this sentimentality, I could not think of a more suitable act to see on this contemplative day than Greg Mendez.

A stalwart member of Philadelphia’s indie music scene, Greg Mendez’s singer-songwriter style music is marked with acoustic instrumentation, effective melodies, and thick emotions that lend themselves to an atmosphere which gladly accommodates a variety of feelings for a variety of audiences. Like many singer-songwriters in his category, and with his autobiographical and acutely personal songwriting, Greg’s music draws obvious comparisons to Elliott Smith; however, a deep dive is not necessary to find that he has carved out his own immediately recognizable niche.

Arriving at the entrance to the Cat’s Cradle Back Room, I noticed Greg at a short distance, partially obscured, treating himself to a quiet moment during the final moments of the opening act’s performance. This is when I immediately understood that this set would be an intimately nuanced evening. 

As he and his partner walked on stage, one could sense Greg’s nervousness about beginning his performance, and the handful of attentive members of the (still somewhat chatty) crowd held respectful consideration for his hesitation. After some supportive pats on the back from his partner who joined him on stage, Greg picked up his acoustic guitar, found his seat, and with his head down, prepared to present his experience in the lusciousness and pain of life.

A hush promptly fell over the crowd as he started playing, intuitively, without an introductory word or notice. 

The personal and dramatic energy of the narratives told in his songs were, unlike many similar artists, not lost in the allure of live performance. In fact, the connection to Greg’s lived reality felt viscerally tangible. The emotions were raw, and you could almost physically feel them coursing through the audience in waves. The notes of Greg and his partner’s deeply fervent and stunning harmonies pulsed throughout the space, making it unbearable to even consider looking away. In the fleeting moments between the ends of Greg’s songs and the passionate applause of the audience, I’ve never felt more deafening silence come from so many people.

As the set progressed, Greg quickly became more comfortable with his stage presence, quietly riffing on “thank you” and “you’re welcome” with audience members between songs. The tone of the performance may have slightly loosened, but the sense of admiration from the people in the crowd never remotely faltered, and the songs felt as impassioned as they did from the start.

Greg never skipped a beat, never had a crack in his voice, and always stayed true to the songs. During “Rev. John”, the half-opener to his self-titled album, I at first thought that Greg was playing the organ melody from a mysterious backing track because of how thoroughly identical it sounded to the studio recording. Peeking over the heads of the audience, however, I was surprised to see that Greg was hunched over his keyboard, playing the melody himself. The guitar parts throughout the set were just as eerily accurate to the studio versions as well, despite the lack of some of the additional instrumentation found on the album.

At the end, I walked outside on an emotional high, truly unable to come to terms with the fact that the set was already over.

Considering the straightforwardness and minimalism of the music, it was an unbelievably outstanding performance. I have never experienced such sensitive, intuitional power come from a single artist and his supporting musician as I did that night. 

Our daily love is rarely as evident as it was on Valentine’s Day at the Cat’s Cradle.