Chicago – The L.A. via Omaha band Big Harp played Lincoln Hall, along with another band started in Omaha, The Good Life. The bands have been touring together, which isn’t too surprising considering they share a member: Stefanie Drootin-Senseny. They also used to share the label Saddle Creek Records, but recently Big Harp made a change. They actually made a few changes, but as is life, change happens, hopefully for the better.
Big Harp began as project between husband and wife Chris Senseny and Stefanie Drootin-Senseny, with Chris crooning away, playing guitar and Stefanie putting it down on bass. I first saw Big Harp moons ago when they were still just a duo, playing a tiny little dive called Pancho’s. (RIP Pancho’s!) It was 2011, and the wedded team were touring in support of their debut White Hat (Saddle Creek), bringing their children along on the road, performing a mix of folk and Americana at tiny clubs around the U.S. They’ve grown so much since them, adding a third member in 2014 – Daniel Ocanto on drums – and leaning more towards rock and psychedelia, with fringes of pop and Cali surf sounds.
They unleashed that new sound on Chicago, playing all new songs, starting with “It’s a Shame,” the single they put out through Fat Possum, followed by “Numbers” and nine more songs from their third album, but first as a trio, Waveless (Majestic Litter). I have to admit, it was a little strange to hear such a heavy sound coming from Big Harp, but once Chris began wailing on guitar and Stefanie did her magic, I was entranced. (Seriously, if you’ve never seen her play bass in person, get on it! I mean, watching those zippy fingers move so fast and effortlessly is mystifying!) I wasn’t alone. Those in attendance watched in bewilderment. Applause filled the room song after song, but especially with “Image.” Whoa, what a number!
Although Big Harp’s sound has changed, one thing hasn’t changed: they still are adorably charming. Watching Big Harp perform puts a smile on your face and leaves you feeling incredibly happy about life. Much of that has to do with the banter between Chris and Stefanie. Throughout the night they joked with each other and the audience she dubbed as ”mysterious,” provoking laughs between songs. Stefanie brought a lot of chuckles when she spoke about Big Harp’s decision to put their album out via tape. After their label told them they wanted to wait till 2016 to release Waveless, they said eff you and released it on cassette, making them feel a bit like a punk band, with that DIY touch and sticking it to the man and all. Stefanie actually knows all about what it is to be in a punk band, given she performed in a few, growing up in L.A. long before she and Chris met and moved to his native Nebraska. The band is now based in L.A. You can’t help but wonder if their new sound has been influenced from living in the City of Angels. Either way, it’s definitely worth seeing Big Harp live to hear their big, new sound!
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.