Review: Tomberlin Leads Schubas on a Beautiful Night of Emotional Songs

We’re just over a decade of Tomorrow Never Knows festivals and they just keep getting better. TNK takes over a nice collection of local venues every January (save for that one COVID year) and has always been a pretty good barometer of the indie music scene. This year continues that with some amazing shows on the lineup. For night one of this year’s TNK I go tthe chance to see some favorites of mine at Schubas: V.V. Lightbody, Free Range, and Tomberlin!

Vivian McConnell, or V.V. Lightbody as music fans know her, started off the night almost giddy with excitement to let the crowd know she walked on stage to a song from Zelda: Ocarina of Time (“Zora’s Domain”). That energy completely radiated off of her and had the crowd enamored with her set, as they rightly should be. McConnell’s songs are incredible and her opening set really let them shine.

If It’s Not Me” is one of her standout tracks and definitely seemed to be the crowd’s favorite of the night. A song about poise and understanding in the midst of breakup, McConnell maneuvers through its complex emotions with deftness. She isn’t afraid to get personal with her songs, delving to so much throughout the night including the light spats one has with their partner (which she kindly calls precious moments). I think it’s that honesty that gives her onstage aura a completely welcoming hue, especially when her friend Jordan Reynold of Rose Hotel joined her onstage. The pair, who both reminisced about performing together for the first time right there at Schubas a few years ago, serenaded the crowd for a couple of songs before McConnell walked off stage. Once again it was a Zelda: Ocarina of Time song, this time around “Gorgon City.”

Free Range, the project of Sofia Jensen, took the middle spot of the night with an impressive set. She began the set remarking on the evening’s lineup “Three solo singers, that’s my kind of set. I was made for this.” And sure enough ,they were right. Jensen’s voice and guitar had the spotlight to themselves and were more than strong enough to get the crowd completely in their feels. Performing songs from the upcoming Practice (which has a release show at Schubas on 2/24), Jensen seem completely at ease on stage. “Want to Know” certainly felt like the centerpiece of the set with Jensen joking around about the car donuts she was pulling off the song’s music video. The song itself is a really pristine example of Jensen’s direct and inviting folk style.

Tomberlin took the headlining spot at Schubas and as always, was an absolute marvel. I most recently saw her open for Tegan and Sara in November and while that was a great set, a sinus infection was taking its toll. This time around though Sara Beth Tomberlin was in full force, delivering my favorite sets of hers I’ve had the chance to experience.

The opening chords of “Any Other Way” range out into the packed Schubas crowd with all the sincerity that song needed. It’s a hefty track full of sad and tender emotions of someone that is unsure of their place in the world. “You said that I was brave, but I just feel insane” sings Tomberlin with an understanding that exudes empathy. You can’t help but feel every word she sang.

“Ever date an alcoholic?” she asked the crowd, “I don’t recommend it but you might get a few songs out of it. Here’s one of them.” Despite that bit of sarcastic self deprecation, Tomberlin’s songwriting soared in “Wasted.” Even when Tomberlin is pushing away her experiences in her intro to songs, her songwriting defies it and lets you in on so much. Lines like “I know I’m not Jesus, but Jesus, I’m tryin’ to be enough” off “Born Again Runner” lets a bit of her wry wordplay mess with your expectations and delivers a strong and powerful song.

“Do you guys ever disassociate? … Anyway here’s another song about my little problems,” she remarked before delving into one of my favorite newer songs of hers: ” Tap.” It’s a song that makes it easy to just lose yourself in as Tomberlin lets her lyricism get loose as her voice dances along the lines.. “I’m not a singer I’m just someone who’s guilty,” she gently sings, once again showing just a little more of her unease despite being so damn talented.

Tomberlin closed out her set with a cover of “Natural Light” by Owen Ashworth, who you might know better as Advance Base or Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (and happens to be playing a TNK show at Schubas on Saturday 1/21) . She mentioned how often people remark it’s their favorite song of hers, another moment where she relishes in joking at her own expense. But as you hear the song emerge from her, she makes it all her own. Tomberlin’s voice turns the song of a past relationship all the more devastating as its final lines float away “I found a picture from before the fight. We’re in natural light and you’re sitting on my lap like everything’s all right.” It tied a truly beautiful, albeit sad, knot to a night full of deeply emotional songs.

All photos by Julian Ramirez.

You can check out more TNK shows this weekend! Check out their website for the full lineup!

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Julian Ramirez
Julian Ramirez
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