Shalin Liu, Rockport, MA 1/27/12
“This might be the nicest room I’ve ever been in, nonetheless performed in,” Chris O’Brien states as he takes center stage in the beautiful 330-seat Shalin Liu Performance Center. He steps into “Rosa” with the phrase, “She’s lightning, I’m thunder”— this song was in a competition that led him to being flown to Minnesota to appear on A Prairie Home Companion. He continues to sing along with a combination of percussive strums and finger-picking on his acoustic guitar. Raised by two women, he recently got reacquainted with his father and expresses it in “Blood Like You.” Chris’s clever self-deprecating humor makes him an easily likable guy, and his songwriting and guitar playing skills are bound to open as many doors as he chooses to approach.
The skilled Chelsea Berry is physically young yet possesses an old soul. She takes the stage in totally darkness with poise and a sense of magic. Her lone voice fills the space where light would be in a dramatic delivery of “On Shining Wings.” She’s dressed in black with a banana-neck long-sleeve top and pants. Appreciation of family and friends is always a part of Chelsea’s show, and tonight her mom gets the nod in “Momma’s Lullaby.” Funny, because her mom tells me during intermission that Chelsea at 15 years old first took to songwriting with “Daddy’s Song.” And there’s more family news—her 90-year-old grandma was driven up by her cousin from Pennsylvania without tickets and managed to land seats despite the show being sold out. To add a variation in sight and sound, Chelsea slips between guitar and piano and eventually brings up a band of talented friends. The soundman adds a nice touch of reverb on the acoustic guitar for the final song of her set—Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Her loving audience doesn’t let her go that easily as all stand with heartfelt applause to bring Chelsea Berry and friends back to perform “You Me and Mary.” It’s delightful to see this young woman making strides in her already brilliant career. (T Max)