Evelyn Crunden ’13
Coffee, cookies and instruments ranging from a cello to a tambourine held a cozy but excited audience captive last Thursday night as the Ballroom Thieves returned to Smith for SEC’s coffeehouse series, Jittery’s, a two-hour, biweekly event held in the CC TV Lounge that brings various musical artists to campus.
On-campus Smith students generally open before the main act, but this week the Boston-based group of three went solo to much enthusiasm. Small but never lacking in gusto, the band, composed of frontman Martin Earley, cellist and vocalist Rachel Gawell and percussionist Devin Mauch, made small talk with the crowd while racing through a tight but pleasing set list.
With their folksy sound, Thieves immediately brought to mind indie acts like British darling Mumford and Sons as well as up-and-coming bands like the Lumineer. Dressed the part in scuffed boots and monochromatic attire, the trio alternated between bouncy ballads like “Down By The River” and slow, moody sleepers like “Wait For The Water.”
The night ended with an all but literal bang, as the band suddenly switched to a completely acoustic set-up for “Loneliness Waltz,” a haunting, beautiful song brought to life by Earley’s carrying voice and Gawell’s accompanying harmony. Rather than rendering the song dismissible by removing wires, the switch had the opposite effect, and loud applause closed out the night.
The band’s enthusiasts ranged from veterans to newcomers. “The Ballroom Thieves are one of my favorite acts that we have booked. I am happy that there was a good turn out,” said SEC member Samantha Driscoll ’14, who will be running Jittery’s this semester. Driscoll encouraged all students to take a break from their studies once every two weeks.
“As a Smithie, I know that we all have work to do and this might [keep] us from coming to SEC and OSE events. However, it is important to realize that we only have one college experience. Work should not consume your whole life. Who knows? Maybe you could find your new favorite band at Jittery’s,” said Driscoll. She added that seeing the Thieves caused her to “stop thinking about all the stressful things swirling around in [her] head and instead have a cup of coffee, a cookie and [a wonderful listening experience]” during the two-hour study break.
Praise was hardly limited to those behind the scenes, however. “Overall, they were a fun band with a good, albeit slightly derivative sound and well written lyrics,” said Taylor Fallon ’16, who fell in love with Jittery’s early on in her Smith career.
Still, the performance was not without flaws, and it should be duly noted that Gawell’s voice is tragically underused, though her dry jabs at enjoying a visit to a women’s college after time spent on the road with only men brought a wry humor to the filler commentary between songs. It also took around five tracks to fully enthrall the audience, who were perhaps expecting a larger turnout. Still, as the band found its footing, the event did as well, and the combination of cello and guitar fueled the set through to its finish. Chatter from Mauch, who waxed poetic about Campus Center Café’s panini selection, also propelled the mood of the night, and onlookers laughed while helping themselves to the assortment of cookies laid out in the atmospheric lounge.
For all of its hit-or-miss potential pitfalls, Jittery’s ultimately appears to be off to an excellent start. The Ballroom Thieves more than provided the momentum required to drum up excitement for upcoming acts, including indie favorite Darlingside and Smith’s own Hannah & Maggie, while simultaneously providing already furiously-studying Smith students with a refreshing and fulfilling break from the world of papers. If Thursday’s performance was any indication, the prospect of late Thursdays spent in the Campus Center has just become a little less bleak.
Jittery’s will be held in the CC TV Lounge once every two weeks this semester at 9 p.m. Upcoming acts include OK Sweetheart (2/14), Kid’s Choice, Hannah & Maggie, Annalise Emerick, Caleb McGinn, Ben & the Brights and Darlingside for a larger event in the Quad. If any Smith students are interested in opening, they should contact Samantha Driscoll at email@example.com.