SOUTH BEND — The Bergamot threw a celebration and called it a concert Saturday at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
For almost two hours and through 20 songs, the band exuded joy and ecstasy in its playing and its interaction with the audience.
And it was a well-deserved and well-earned celebration for this Brooklyn-based sextet formed by South Bend natives Nathaniel Paul Hoff and Jillian Speece while they were students at Marian High School.
They had a lot to celebrate:
• A homecoming concert in a venue Speece said she had dreamed about performing in since it opened 10 years ago;
• The release of the band’s latest — and best — album, “Tones,” as well as a book of poetry by Hoff;
• And Speece’s 27th birthday.
But if it was inevitable Saturday’s concert would be special for the band and the audience, something else was clear, too: This band deserves to succeed.
Meticulous and finely textured arrangements played by a group of musicians in total sync with each other, Speece’s knock-you-down vocals, and hers and Hoff’s exquisite harmonies provided the musical power of the performance.
Add in Speece’s exuberant stage presence — her dance moves, ecstatic playing of the tambourine, between-songs expressions of gratitude to the audience — and The Bergamot has the complete package: superb musicianship and personality.
The concert also demonstrated this is a new Bergamot, one that has moved well away from its roots as an acoustic duo, which was, itself, an economic necessity when Hoff and Speece started their career together.
Their indelible melodies and harmonies remain integral to The Bergamot’s songs, but both “Tones” and, even more so, Saturday’s performance mark a clear move toward much more of a rock sound than anything they’ve done before.
It’s noteworthy, for instance, that it took until the 15th song and following an intermission that Hoff played his acoustic guitar, and he didn’t use it much thereafter. Instead, besides a few songs played at the piano, he stuck to his Gibson Les Paul.
And the band rocked, right from the beginning with the lead-off track from “Tones,” “Forget About Tomorrow,” a signal of what would come.
From “Tones,” the irresistible energy of the syncopated rhythms on the title song and “Next to You”; the freak-out of an instrumental break that featured distorted guitars, fiery violin, and pounding bass and drums on “Burst Out”; Hoff’s warm tenor lead on “Miles”; and Speece’s soulful delivery and the combination of Justin Gaynor’s electric guitar arpeggios and Notre Dame alumna Audrey Hayes’ violin solo on “Remedy” all provided some of the night’s numerous highlights.
Among the set list’s older songs, Speece’s voice conveyed absolute joy on “You and Me,” the deceptively joyful pop-rock of “Wishing Well” recalled that of the Barenaked Ladies and the stark arrangement of “Broken Hearted” with just Gaynor’s and Hoff’s electric guitars and Speece’s voice gave the song a sense of desperation.
The Bergamot also played one cover Saturday, Steely Dan’s “Peg,” and it was a standout for its arrangement, especially the use of Hayes’ violin to carry the song’s signature riff and the upbeat jazz-disco groove that had Speece dancing while she sang.
But this was also a homecoming for Hoff and Speece, and they added several personal touches to the night, including a spontaneous invitation to two of Hoff’s cousins, Jordyn and Lexie Kahler, to sing the last chorus of “Me and Roscoe” with them, and the planned guest spots by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg as pianist on “School Notes” and their friend Kevin Krizmanich, who provided a soulful trumpet introduction to “Candy Wrappers.”
Hoff and DeBartolo’s executive director, Anna Thompson, also coordinated having the audience sing “Happy Birthday” to Speece, and Hoff and Speece dedicated their emotionally affecting acoustic duo rendition of “Young Again” to his maternal grandmother, Joan Webber, who died April 13.
The only real critical issue of the night was in the sound mix: Too often Hayes’ violin was too soft to hear, especially over Fegan’s drums, and even Gaynor’s electric guitar didn’t always have enough presence at times.
Otherwise, this homecoming was a triumph for The Bergamot.
As Speece said at one point, “There are so many dreams coming true tonight.”
If there’s any justice in the music business, many more will come true for The Bergamot.
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