While the streets of Mass Ave. resembled the likes of a snow globe, inside Boston’s famed Middle East nightclub, there wasn’t a chill to be felt. Twenty year old Noah Levine has had quite the year trotting around the world, yet his sold out Boston return proved to be a highlight in his budding career. Noah in the Open, the musical project Levine started at a young age, appears live as a six piece band, consisting of Noah Levine on vocals and guitar, Leon Sharplin on guitar, Payton Taylor on drums, Paul Reinhold on bass, and Jack Whitney and Soulboi on keys.
With songwriting that connects to an ever-evolving Gen-Z, his subjects convey the struggles, complexities, heartbreak, and euphoria of growing up, through indie rock/pop offerings. Having studied music production and engineering at Boston’s esteemed Berklee College of Music, he writes, plays, and produces his own tracks, as well as collaborating with bandmates and friends.
Levine was plucked from his studies last year to join rising folk star Noah Kahan as his touring guitarist, traipsing the world on his Stick Season tour. Returning to the city where his music career took off, Noah in the Open played to a sold out crowd of nearly 200 at the Middle East Upstairs. Braving the Nor’Easter to attend, the dedication and anticipation in the room was palpable.
Starting his set with indie pop number “Therapist,” the packed room vibrates with a notable energy and a growing warmth that counters the outdoors. “Man, I’m so happy to be here right now,” Levine opened the show with a Cheshire grin. “I did not expect a blizzard to happen on the show day… I’m so happy to be here. This is my first show back since being on tour with Noah Kahan. You guys sold this the f**k out! Seriously, this has never happened before. I’m so unbelievably grateful.”
Mellow rocker “Street Fighter,” co-written with bassist Leon Sharplin, provides a moment to decompress, only to be reinvigorated by 2021 single, “Through the Glass.” Even in the track’s more subdued moments, Noah’s highly skilled band jams out in a synchronized mesh of keys, synths and guitar that fills the club with a lively grove. “I’m so lucky that the people I play music with are simultaneously my best friends in the world,” Noah expresses, further proving the unit’s tight knit bond.
At the set’s midpoint, the mood is tuned down to a steady level, still full of enthusiasm and Levine’s boyish charm, but stabilized to allow everyone to catch their breath. The track “San Fransisco” is followed by a few acoustic numbers that leave Levine up on stage solo with his guitar. Striped back and vulnerable, themes of mortality, life, and fears are hashed out in beautifully stripped back songs, letting Levine’s songwriting shine. “I just loved being a kid. I never wanted to grow up, and I still never wanna grow up,” he says of the track. “So this song is about being afraid of dying. I’ve been trying to get over that my whole life and just accept growing up, and at the end it’s kind of like I’m becoming one with how life works and everything… then something ruins that.”
Moments of the show are punctuated by Levine’s quick whit, stories, and his innate charisma. Enigmatic and relatable, the crowd clings onto each word he says. “I was at Berklee last year, and I loved it there. Then this asshole named Noah pulled me out of it,” he joked between songs. “I’m grateful for the time I spent there and I’m grateful for the time spent on the road, but ya know, life is isolating sometimes. I wrote a little bit about that. I was in a dark place and I sort of gave up on trusting people around me, and now I’m just in a dark place and can pile all my shit on the people around me,” he smirks at his friends. Unafraid of the vulnerability of uncovering his innermost emotions, Levine wears his heart on his sleeve and nothing is more evident than that in his songwriting and on-stage personality.
In a moment that feels somewhat serendipitous, the energy shifts as a surprise guest is introduced. “We started writing a song together a couple weeks ago. He’s grown to be a really close friend of mine recently, and I just love this guy. I’d love to bring out Mr. Noah Kahan,” Levine announces to a deafening cheers. Noah Kahan— who yesterday announced a string of amphitheater East Coast tour dates— clammers onto the stage directly from the crowd, a shy smile on his face. “You ready? Thanks for coming man!” Levine grins, to which Kahan jokes, “I’m a little nervous.” Sharp as ever, Levine teases, “One day when you’re like me, you’ll play shows too.”
Connecting both sides of Levine’s words, his humble Boston roots and the spectacle of playing with Kahan, the deeper meaning in their coexistence was not lost. The pair launched into a new, unreleased and unnamed track that comes alive in a gorgeously narrated folk rock number. In typical Kahan fashion, the song’s lyrical structure paints a vivid story through clever and pointed lyricism, while Levine adds his own flavor with skillful guitar picking and blended harmonies. A pivotal moment in the show, the duo’s relationship radiates love and mentorship, creating a truly memorable and special memory for everyone in attendance.
Joined afterwards by Arthur Caplan, drummer of opening band Jojomber, Levine buzzes with energy as he puts acoustic songs behind him. The last stretch of the set is full of vivacious numbers with roaring riffs and upbeat choruses that cause countless heads to bob. Alt-pop hit “FAKE” is a sure highlight, allowing Levine to burst out of any lingerings of a shell he had left, commanding the stage with a confidence. Another standout moment is found in his latest single, “Mission Failed,” a gorgeous piano ballad in which fans carry the tune in perfect pitch (hello Berklee students) and Noah showcases his controlled vocals in a lower register.
“I wrote this song in 2020. It is one of your many Covid songs that came out,” he introduces “House Arrest,” his final song of the night. Currently his most-streamed song, lyrics are mouthed throughout the room while Noah and band erupt into a crescendo of shimmering synths, blazing riffs, and an incredibly catchy hook. His seemingly effortless blend of nostalgic ’80s sounds and modern indie-pop subtleties culminates into a captivating and joyful string of songs that translate even better live.
Wearing a smile on his face the entirety of the show, Noah’s natural stage presence wins you over before his music even has the chance to. With an ensemble that is finely in synch with one another, Noah in the Open is a joy to watch and an act that invites you in with arms wide open.
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