Christian Lee Hutson and Fenne Lily bring quiet storytelling indie rock to Union Transfer - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Storytelling is a significant aspect of the indie rock genre, and Christian Lee Hutson and Fenne Lily have mastered the skill. The two indie rockers played some of the best from their individual catalogs this past Saturday night at Union Transfer. For those of us with a long stamina for live music, this show was a soothing end to being outside all day walking miles of West Philly at Porchfest.

From the school of “sad girl” soft rock like Phoebe Bridgers and heart-string pulling, sympathetically antagonistic rock like Conor Oberst (two producers of Hutson’s first album) comes Christian Lee Hutson. The born-and-raised Southern Californian writes from a profound place of self-awareness, and expands upon many personal and societal sensitivities in his music, like depression and uneasiness about the future. Adding to the complexion of his songwriting, Hutson’s guitar style is prolific; he plays both the lead and rhythm roles simultaneously. While his playing is virtuosic, it’s also delicate, and draws little comparison to the academic and often ego-brimming “jam band” shredders. Hutson’s first album Beginners came out during lockdown in 2020, and its follow-up, Quitters, came out in 2022.

As he explained on stage, Hutson discovered Fenne Lily at the suggestion of his manager, who guest-listed him to Lily’s show a few years ago. Since then, Hutson developed an obsession, and requested an advance of her sophomore album BREACH (2020). Lily herself insisted he wait for the album to be officially released like everyone else; her management, however, relented. This snapshot of the origin of their professional partnership and friendship gave context to their humorous chemistry. Each artist played their own respective set, but came out to play a song or two by the other.

Fenne Lily | photo by Paige Walter for WXPN

Fenne Lily made her debut in 2018 with On Hold, and has since put out two more records including Big Picture, released this past April. Lily’s sound is mellow and humming, and her vocals are shimmering. She writes with a clever lucidity, hiding grand feelings in descriptions of her everyday life in New York City. Standouts from her show at Union Transfer were the chugging “Pick” and “2+2” from Big Picture, which both express the loneliness of the pandemic. “I guess we don’t know really what we’re looking for / ‘Til we have everything and still want more,” she sings on “2+2.” BREACH’s “I Used To Hate My Body But Now I Just Hate You” also left a deep impression. Lily’s live performance was heavy with emotionality.

As was Christian Lee Hutson’s. The singer-songwriter was at XPN last to perform a Free At Noon concert in April of 2022, around the time he opened for Bright Eyes at The Mann. He also sold out The Lounge at World Cafe Live last July on tour for Quitters. This time around he had the biggest audience of his own, but the quiet room still felt intimate. Hutson performed his most-streamed songs like “Atheist” and “Northsiders” alongside some of the more particularly poignant tunes from Quitters like “Age Difference,” an apologetic love song and “Endangered Birds,” a painful reflection on change. He finished with his typical opener, “Strawberry Lemonade,” which features a meandering guitar solo full of feedback. Philly’s own Alenni Davis from Another Michael joined Hutson’s band on violin, adding the atmosphere his songs demands.

The five-piece, Austin, TX rock group Why Bonnie opened the night with a sentimental set. Their latest, 90 In November, is available to stream now, as well as Fenne Lily’s Big Picture and Christian Lee Hutson’s Quitters. See a photo gallery from the night below.

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