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On Sept. 9, Vermont native Noah Kahan performed a rousing set to nearly 20,000 fans, radiating sensitivity, heartbreak, and an untethered love for New England through the sold-out rows of Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts. As one of the last stops on the U.S. leg of his celebrated “Stick Season” tour and the final stop in New England, the show was extra special for Kahan and his fans, given that much of the singer’s music centers around coming of age in the Northeast.
Kahan’s show was highly anticipated, given the singer’s ever growing popularity. Though he released his first full album — “Busyhead”— in 2019, it was his 2021 hit song “Stick Season” and subsequent album of the same name that sent him soaring to the top of the charts. In June, he made his inaugural appearance on the Billboard Top 100 charts with his hit song, “Dial Drunk.” Kahan made a point of shouting out his New England fan base during the Mansfield show, sharing that he’s been performing in Boston since he was 18, when his name was spelled incorrectly on the marquee. He thanked his early fans for “sticking with him,” pun intended, and stated that Boston remains one of his favorite places to play.
The concert was opened by up-and-coming dirt emo music star Ruston Kelly who set the stage with his angsty, alternative tunes.
Much to the audience’s pleasure, Kahan took the stage shortly thereafter, evoking a roar of excitement from the anticipatory crowd. “Some of you have started calling me Jewish Capaldi … and Folk Malone” Kahan said, eliciting a booming howl of laughter as he prepared to perform.
The concert was interspersed with many more light-hearted comments, showcasing Kahan’s witty and dry sense of humor and making the large show feel more intimate.
Kahan began the show with “Northern Attitude,” and his encore consisted of “Stick Season,” “The View Between Villages,” “Homesick,” three songs about growing up while enduring cold Northeast winters, thus speaking to the experiences of the hometown crowd, who cheered and sang along particularly loud to the relatable lyrics. These performances were made even more special by a large map of New England that was projected onto the stage behind Kahan, with many Massachusetts towns visible. The simple visual combined with the concert’s location made his already emotional songs feel even more extraordinary and intimate. The visual created a perfect image of Kahan as an artist, with his New England identity at the very heart of his music career.
While many of his lyrics can be characterized as dreary and heavy, the use of the banjo, drums, and sharp crescendos created a contrast between lyrics and sound that make many of his songs feel highly emotional. During “New Perspective,” for example, Kahan used the typically anti-climactic bridge as an opportunity to passionately strum in unison with his banjo player, eliciting excited cheers from the crowd.
Despite battling a cold and performing with a cup of hot tea and a water bottle in hand, Kahan managed to truly captivate his audience. The stage was stripped with a relatively simple stage setup. Kahan was joined onstage by his small band — including 2021 Berklee College of Music graduate Noah Levine — while Kahan himself played guitar. At times, the audience jumped in to help him sing through nasal congestion. After a rousing rendition of “New Perspective,” Kahan took things down in tempo as fans sang along and held up flashlights during the grandiose chorus of his hit song “Everywhere, Everything.”
Most unique to Kahan’s show, however, was the frequent discussion of mental health. Much like his lyrics themselves, Kahan brought attention to tough themes including addiction, loss, and depression through both his music and the personal details he shared with the audience between songs. Before performing “Your Needs, My Needs,” he showed no shame in telling the audience that the song was about the experience of being on the antidepressant, Zoloft.
Kahan also opted to perform “Carlo’s Song” off of his 2019 album “Busyhead,” sharing with the audience that the somber song was about a friend who had died young, and that he felt Carlo’s presence with him as he performed. The performance of this grieving, existential tune came as a surprise to fans who were not expecting to hear any of Kahan’s early tracks; it also added a layer of deep emotion and sadness, catching the audience off guard and resulting in a relatively quiet and still stadium.
The Mansfield stop on Kahan’s tour felt particularly emotional for both crowd and performer alike, given the latter’s aforementioned personal connection to New England and the way in which his lyrics largely revolved around the area. When performing his song “Paul Revere,” for example, he made a point of mentioning Revere’s connection to Boston. He also asked fans to “picture themselves in downtown Boston on a Friday night” as he began a passionate performance of his hit song “Dial Drunk,” which details his battle with alcoholism.Overall, Kahan’s performance felt uniquely intimate. Between his constant references to his experiences in the Boston area and ability to speak directly to the crowd, he managed to make his fans feel like personal friends. The vulnerability he exhibited as he openly talked about his own mental health contributed to this as well. This portrayal of closeness with his fans made Kahan reflect the average New Englander singing about his home.
—Staff writer Lola J. DeAscentiis can be reached at email@example.com.
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