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Ari Hest disappoints small crowd at SMC

Lauren Wendel | Thursday, December 2, 2004

There seems to be a curse on modern music coming to college campuses these days. Since the emergence of John Mayer to radio, there has been a rush by labels to produce as many Mayer-sounding musicians as possible. Unfortunately, this leaves the general public with little variety or sense of honest talent. Ari Hest brought his version of “Mayerdom” to kick-off Saint Mary’s “Pride Week” Monday evening.Hest, signed to Columbia Records this past year, is touring to promote his first major-label debut “Someone to Tell.” This communications major and New York University graduate plays primarily acoustic pop/rock/funk/folk littered with generic lyrics about love and the quest to find oneself in the world. His singer/songwriter status easily places him among the likes of Mayer and Howie Day, but with less personality than his counterparts.The set started off slow with only Hest and his guitar in front of the crowd of about 50, playing long, slow love songs such as “Upper Hand” from his third self-released album “Story After Story.” Gradually, he added bassist, Rob Caulder and drummer Scott Sever to the mix, creating a deeper sound as the set wore on. “Caught up in Your Love” picked up the pace with more upbeat drums and harmonies, but still lacked in lyrical complexity. Things began to improve with the catchy “Consistency” which caught the crowd off guard with its intense opening drums and sing-a-long refrain. Hest mumbled the majority of the rest of the lyrics outside the refrain, making it difficult to appreciate the entire song. He followed up this catchy tune with another single-ready, “Fascinate You.” In fact, most of the songs sound like potential singles musically, but need lyrical depth and variety. The crowd added some light cheers throughout this time, even shouting about his tall, dark and handsome appearance. Hest did not respond to much of these jests, nor did he speak during the long pauses in between songs. He had a great deal of charisma on stage while singing, but shied away from the limelight otherwise. The only observance he cared to share with the largely female crowd was how he found it “cool not to have a balance around, it being an all-girls school.” Songs from his new album kept the set fresh and moving along on a cold evening. Hest’s “Anne Marie” is a heartfelt ballad about “coexisting with someone who argues better than you, which makes you break-up with them.” The crowd began to warm up to Hest after this song and stayed with him through the TV soundtrack-esque “Monster” and “Not for Long.” Despite showcasing Hest’s vocal range nicely, these dragged on longer than necessary with lyrics that did not click with the music. One of the best and more unique songs of the set was a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street.” This darker ballad was nicely played with full harmonies and interweaving of instruments. Hest made a wise decision to cover this song, as it showed a more complex view of his musical abilities. If he would concentrate on honing this sound, his music would move beyond “Mayerdom” and into a new realm of creating his own personality. Hest followed up this cover with yet another cover of Bonnie Rait’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” which was less spectacular than “Mercy Street” but still a good fit for Hest’s voice.Hest returned to his own songs with “Head for the Hills,” a song written while on tour. With lyrics “Let’s head for the hills/If only for tonight baby,” the song needs some fine tuning and more attention grabbing compositions. Fortunately, Hest ended his set strong with a string of single-ready tunes from his new album.”Holding On” was quickly followed by “They’re Onto Me,” Hest’s first single off the album. Both of these gave the crowd a good sense of his album, all while providing beats to bounce around to. “A Fond Farewell,” one of Hest’s personal favorites, like the majority of his other songs, lacks lyrical depth and is strongly reminiscent of Mayer’s musical library. The long set concluded with “Aberdeen” – an almost lullaby-like song about leaving home. In Hest’s case, if home were considered “Mayerdom,” he has yet to leave and break out with his own personality. With more time, and more writing, Hest has the capabilities and hard work ethic to make an impression on the music industry, but not until he leaves “Mayerdom.”