Todd Kessler at Uncommon Ground (Clark) 1/16/2013

Last night I decided to check out Todd Kessler and Miles Nielsen at Uncommon Ground’s Clark location. There were a couple things that led me to this decision: 1. I already knew that I would enjoy Miles Nielsen’s set. I saw him open for Ike Reilly a while back and I really dug his sound. And 2. I wanted to give Kessler a chance. He got shafted early when he was a contestant on “The Voice,” and he opened up for our friends Vintage Blue a couple weeks ago, but we missed the set he played with his band The New Folk. Plus Uncommon Ground is a really cool place to go and see an intimate set while feasting on some locally grown foods.

Nielsen opened and played about forty-five minutes worth of material. Some of it was from a new EP and some from his record The Rusted Hearts. The older stuff I had heard the last time I saw him, but the new stuff was all really good. Nielsen has a great voice, as well as a knack for storytelling that shines through in his songs. He was heavy on the banter, much of which was very funny-stories about getting his walking boot taking off after wearing it for seven weeks and the “in my movie” game he likes to play as he walks through everyday life. The highlight of his set was “Tokyo.” If you ever see him live, I hope he tells the story of how he came up with the song. It’s pretty entertaining.

Todd Kessler came next, and took his seat alongside his New Folk bandmate Molly Parlier. The two of them played a set featuring many songs that have never been recorded for New Folk records, which I thought was  a good idea. Kessler is playing a lot of Chicago shows this month, so it’s a good idea to not play the same songs over and over. If you’re only familiar with him through his short stint on “The Voice,” he plays a folk/pop with slightly spiritual undertones (sometimes not so slight). But like I always say, the subject of the song doesn’t really matter as long as it’s done well. For the most part his songs are well-constructed. Sometimes a little light lyrically, but he makes up for that with a strong voice and good performing skills.

The harmonies between Kessler and Parlier sounded like they’ve been singing together for a long time, and it really made the set sound full and rich for a small setting like UG. Kessler also made good use of a couple covers to keep the audience interested, which you sometimes have to do. I really liked his version of “High And Dry.” I was surprised he would do a Radiohead song, I guess because of what his original songs had sounded like up until that point I never would have made the connection. He did it well, though. He also played one he did for “The Voice,” Elton John’s “Your Song.” The only misstep of the set was that he took it one cover too far, playing Coldplay’s “Fix You,” which incorporated some of John Lennon’s “Imagine” for some reason.

That one flaw aside, I thought the set was pretty good. Having only seen him on “The Voice,” I didn’t know what to expect. From the couple times I saw him on the show I could tell he was a real musician and not someone who just wanted to be on TV (which is more than I can say for most of the contestants). He knows his strengths and tends to not go too far out of his wheelhouse.

The set ended with “Hallelujah,” the single off of The New Folk’s first full-length. Afterward I had a chance to say hello, and he seems like a pretty genuine guy. Very gracious and humble. Here is the official music video for the aforementioned song.