Luke Harris exuded an almost neighborly geniality prior to kicking off a recent performance at Groove U, a music industry trade school housed in the former Fifth Avenue Alternative Elementary School in Victorian Village, joking with attendees and cracking a wide, easy smile. Once the singer-songwriter opened his mouth to sing, however, these good vibes gave way to confusion, angst and a stream of relationships (both familial and romantic) marked by pained goodbyes.
“I just want to die in my sleep tonight,” he sang on one tune, while another found the musician comparing a would-be lover with a poisoned apple. Indeed, even when Harris managed to land the girl, as he did on one pretty acoustic number, he approached the newfound romance as though he were living under a constant orange-level threat alert. “I can feel you tearing away,” he sighed, his hope gradually calcifying into something much harder and colder.
Harris is the first musician signed to Groove U’s newly formed record label, Elementary Records, and the concert doubled as a showcase for his just-completed EP, which was recorded as part of a Groove U senior “finale” project (a project that also included the label launch). The school setting — Harris posted up in the U’s digital recording studio, while the audience of three dozen or so was seated in the control room across the hallway — occasionally bled over into the studied performance, and there were times it would have been nice to hear the songs in slightly more scuffed-up form. As it were, Harris sounded eternally polished even in those moments his words were at their most battered and bruised.
Regardless, the musician shined on a smattering of slow-rolling ballads, stretching out notes like aural Silly Putty (dude has obviously absorbed his fair share of Jeff Buckley and/or Rufus Wainwright) on songs like “On Your Own Now” and “Brothers Goodbyes,” a gentle number awash in delicate piano notes that fluttered and danced like snowflakes on the breeze.
Considering how often Harris’ songs made mention of solitude — “I’m scared enough to be alone,” he sang on the set opener — it’s appropriate he performed on his lonesome here. Because while the singer’s EP is clearly the work of multitudes (a half-dozen or so students received credit at the show’s close), the music itself was best served stripped down to these barest elements.