CONCERT REVIEW: Tyler Stenson Delivers Elegant Folk to Hollywood's Hotel Cafe

By Jessica Klausing

Tyler Stenson performs at Hotel Cafe photo by Jessica Klausing  

Tyler Stenson performs at Hotel Cafe
photo by Jessica Klausing

Tyler Stenson brightened up the Hotel Café with his unique brand of “Elegant Folk” music. His set was as comforting as a warm hug from an old friend on a bad day. His heart wrenching lyrics and charming presence was a much needed gift to Los Angeles.

Stenson walked onto the main room stage at 08:00PM, picked up his acoustic guitar and crooned right into the delicate “Monday and a Mountain.” 

This singer-songwriter from Portland captured the attention in the intimate room with his soul lifting melody and humble lyrics, “I was born on a Monday, in the thickening snow, so it’s safe to say that hard work is habit that lives in my bones.” His presentation didn’t include a backing band, making this performance a stripped-down version similar to his 2010 album, Bittersweet Parade.

Tyler Stenson performs "The Arsonist" at Hotel Cafe   photo by Jessica Klausing

Tyler Stenson performs "The Arsonist" at Hotel Cafe
photo by Jessica Klausing

Stenson picked up the pace with his second song, “The Arsonist.” This was the highlight of the night because he would be simultaneously playing the guitar and harmonica. In this song, Stenson asks the heartbreaking question, “Why build a bridge if you’ll just burn it down?”

Stenson has always proved to be a bold, honest lyricist. What makes his work so unique is his meticulous attention in the sincerity of his simple words. Some examples were lyrics such as the heartbreaking, “I’ve gotten good at being alone,” in “That I’ll Know You” and the rejoicing of “Gone are the days of the dark shades of grey,” in “How Bright.”

A personal favorite of the night was “Cannonball.” This was the opening song on his 2000 album,The Low Ceiling. During that time, Stenson served as a front man for his band, Rhetoric Tuesday. Hearing the line “I’m so close but I’m so far” performed live gave it even more emotion than hearing it on a recording. You can feel the desperation he delivers with each note. Even with his front man experience, it seems pretty evident that Stenson much prefers the reflections of an acoustic solo artist.

He launched next into a slower paced cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Celica” interwoven with Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” alts.

“You Already Know,” and “Carry On” were slightly older hits that told more stories of love, hope, heartbreak and courage.

“Say No More” was the newest song played in the set. This single was Stenson’s first release in 2015. The song was written as an earnest apology to his sister. It teaches us about the consequences of saying the wrong thing to loved ones.

Tyler Stenson   photo by Jessica Klausing

Tyler Stenson
photo by Jessica Klausing

The show ended with the more upbeat “Best Laid Plans.”

“This is one of my most optimistic songs. It came from a darker place in my life. I wrote it at a funeral,” said Stenson.

 He encouraged the audience to sing along with him. Soon enough the room was chanting, “You must believe what might have been, can yet still be.” This positive lyric seemed to spark a glimmer of hope within the audience. Throughout this emotional journey tonight it felt like there really is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Hearing Tyler Stenson live was definitely a memorable experience. His voice is a timeless blend of vulnerability and confidence. Many concerts are filled with orchestral arrangements and heavy production, which are great! Stenson proves that a strong voice and a guitar can leave just as much of a lasting impression.

Monday and a Mountain
The Arsonist
You Already Know
That I’ll Know You…
How Bright
Cecilia-Simon and Garfunkel cover with I’m On Fire alts by Bruce Springsteen
Carry On
Say No More
Best Laid Plans