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REVIEW: Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps at First Avenue

September 22, 2011
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When Caroline Smith emerged on the First Avenue Mainroom stage Friday night wearing a black mini-dress and a pink wristwatch, her hair in wild, Janis Joplin waves, she didn’t try to hide her excitement. She—along with the three members of her back-up band, the Good Night Sleeps— smiled blissfully at the crowd through their opening number, “Closing the Doors,” from 2008’s Backyard Tent Set.

“Want to know why I’m really proud of myself?” Smith asked the audience. “I remembered to wear shorts under this dress!”

Much of Smith’s appeal lies in her ability to be at once sexy and down-to-earth, self-deprecating and graceful. Her songs are sweet and deceptively simple, and it is clear that she feels each lyric deeply, a quality that endears her to her bandmates and audience members alike. When the opening bands (including Girl Germs favorite Dark Dark Dark, featuring songbird Nona Marie Invie) joined the Good Night Sleeps onstage midway through the set, their energy was palpable. Particularly moving was their rendition of Smith’s achingly beautiful “Eagle’s Nest,” which moves elegantly between a soaring chorus (“I am taking you to the eagle’s nest tonight”) and a tender refrain (“My mother’s work is more than this.”)

Afterwards, Smith leaned into the microphone, looked out into the crowd and said, “However much fun that was for you, it was so much more fun for me.”

The most memorable number of the evening was not one of Smith’s originals, however. Toward the end of the show, out of nowhere came Kanye West’s “Power,” with the Simon & Garfunkel-esque boys of the Daredevil Christopher Wright on backup vocals. If Smith had seemed versatile before with her effortless movement between electric, acoustic, and banjo, her rapping sealed the deal. She was spot-on, and the crowd devoured every moment of it, erupting in an uproar of applause.

“That was either the coolest or the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done,” Smith admitted, gracing the crowd once more with her delighted, girl-next-door grin. –Emma Nelson

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