Don McCloskey is interactive, emotive, and endlessly engaging at XPNFest - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
2023.09.22 - Don McCloskey - XPoNential Music Festival 2023

Few artists embody the heart and soul of WXPN like Don McCloskey. He takes elements of the station’s bread and butter genres – folk, rock, soul, Americana – while applying a homegrown approach to songwriting and performance that creates a musical spectacle simultaneously lighthearted and emotional. All of that is to say, Don McCloskey was tailor-made for this year’s XPoNential Festival and kicked off night one with a passionate performance on the XPN Marina Stage.

After a warm introduction from NPR’s Raina Douris, McCloskey, backed by a sweeping eight-piece band, jumped into “I IV V,” a standout track from his latest LP The Chaos and The Beauty. The song began with a beachy guitar riff, soothing the crowd as they sat gathered on the hill hypnotized as Don began to sing. “We all dance to the chaos and the beauty” he belted out in a clever nod to the album’s title. The band exploded between verses, snapping the audience in and out of their trance with huge drum crashes and echoed vocals from singers Sarah Biemuller and Hannah Taylor. McCloskey ended the song in a chanting flurry, repeating “Of all the sacred religions, the only one that ever helped me get by / Is the one that taught me the mantra ‘I IV V in 4/4 time, Faster! Louder! More Divine!’” and setting the tone for the rest of the set.

They followed up the arcing waves of their intro with “Dre,” a calmer tide of mellow drums and soft vocals that highlighted Biemuller and Taylor’s true vocal force, with McCloskey even taking a moment to introduce the pair and say “they’re not backup vocals, they’re upfront vocals. Thank you for making it sound like I can sing.” After a heartfelt laugh, the band paused as McCloskey picked up a kalimba and launched into their third song “Unbecoming.” Chimey, delay-enclosed kalimba hits reflected around the stage and out into the crowd as a slow backbeat solidified the downtempo vibe of the track. Once again proving himself an ideal model of XPN’s sounds and passions, McCloskey drew the unwavering attention of every person in the crowd as he divulged his mistakes over somber acoustic guitar singing, “It’s unbecoming / For a man my age / To feel anything but anger/ To feel anything but rage / But I want you in my sweater / I want you in my hair / I’m old enough to know better / And young enough to not care.” The crowd, myself included, was glued to the stage for every second of the song. We connected with McCloskey because he showed his true self and became more than a larger-than-life frontman. He’s mature, yet flawed. He’s painfully honest, and a uniquely talented songwriter.

After a breeze of other cuts from his discography including “Kill The Lights,” “Open The Door,” and “Son Of It All,” McCloskey gave a wild performance of XPN favorite “First In Flight,” jumping off his stool to cue the song’s ending, the crowd cheering for one final tune. McCloskey and the band gladly obliged, opting to perform an unreleased track titled “Welcome To The Fitness” to conclude the set. For the select few in the crowd not already packed close to the stage, the energy of the band’s final cut was too much to resist. Biemuller and Taylor did jumping jacks during each chorus and McCloskey proceeded to throw down his guitar for an impromptu lap through the crowd, running around giving quick high-fives to an excited audience of fans. After wishing everyone a happy weekend of XPN Fest, he waved goodbye to the crowd as they ran back to the River Stage, hoping to get a good view for Margo Price.

Don McCloskey is opening for the Always Sunny Podcast Saturday night at The Mann Center; more information here..

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