Written by Noelle Simeon
SYML breathed life and grace into the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on April 20. It was the first of 3 shows at the Masonic Lodge, and the first time he was back in L.A. after almost 3 years due to the COVID lockdown and restrictions. It was also the third time I was able to see him play, and I was more than thrilled at the chance.
The Masonic Lodge was built in 1927 and is a smaller venue with only a 150-person capacity. High-back booth seats were stretched along each side wall, and simple black chairs were set up in the middle of the room for the rest of the audience. Chandeliers, hand-painted wood beams across the ceiling, and wood floors that creaked with our weight added to the intimate and moody atmosphere. The lights were a soft hue of orange to purple to blue behind the stage, littered with orchestral instruments and keyboards. The vibe felt like we were sitting to hear a friend’s living room performance.
The Los Angeles shows were originally only two nights, with the second being labeled as ‘B Sides.’ Fans had the option to purchase either single tickets or a 2-show ticket bundle. Additionally, a third night was added, which also sold out, and was titled the same as the first.
For those unfamiliar with him, SYML means “simple” in Welsh and is the moniker that musician, Brian Fennel, performs under. His music is beautiful in its simplicity, without sounding overly produced or stylized, and creates an instant connection to his lyrics and melodies. Fennel‘s voice goes from whisper-like falsettos before perfectly transitioning to a full belt.
During this tour, he is mostly touring throughout Canada and Europe, and performing songs from his 2021 live album Sacred Spaces, which was recorded in SYML’s hometown of Seattle. Many of the spaces SYML has chosen for recording have been churches or similar smaller locations, with no exception to this album’s recording location, Saint Mark’s Cathedral.
Joining SYML are the two musicians who helped record Sacred Spaces, Brian Eichelberger, who has known SYML since the fifth grade, and Zawadi Morrow. Eichelberger is credited as background vocals, keyboards, and violinist, and Morrow as a saxophonist and violinist. Eichelberger is also credited as a co-producer, co-recorder, and the album’s mixer.
The opener, Blake Neely, took the stage behind a keyboard and was joined by a quartet. Without much introduction, they immediately began playing the first of three instrumental songs. He then addressed the audience, telling half of a funny antidote on how he became a fan of SYML and was able to reach him via his agent, but then playfully stated, “I’ll tell you the rest later.”
Neely is an award-winning composer of television and film. He was instantly familiar and friendly in addressing the audience, but he seemed a little nervous to be playing live, an act he probably is not used to. His slight nervousness only made him more endearing, and his beautiful instrumentals, complete with a violin solo, seemed to relax the room.
Towards the end of his set, Neely finished the story of connecting with SYML, who he then introduced. Dressed in his uniform black beanie and a white long-sleeve shirt, SYML took the stage with Neely and together they performed a piece they had written during the 2020 lockdown, “Trouble in Troubled Times.” Afterward, they broke for intermission to set the stage for SYML.
Once ready with Eichelberger and Morrow, SYML expressed how grateful he was to be back in Los Angeles, making references throughout the evening to how wonderful it felt to be able to be played live again. He opened with “Dim” from his 2021 EP DIM.
It is hard to describe the peace that fell over the crowd as he played. His lyrics describe the sadness, loneliness, and beauty we’ve all experienced in the last couple of years. SYML sang thru the Sacred Spaces tracklist, with favorites like “Girl,” “Meant to Stay Hid,” “Fear of the Water,” and “Mr. Sandman,” getting the audience to clap louder as each ended.
SYML loves his fans as much as they love him, stopping every few songs to do little Q&As, answering questions like “how did you meet Brian?” (5th grade at basketball), to “who is your favorite artist?” (Jeff Buckley), to the anticipated “how did you get on Kimmel?” (in disbelief at the call, he jokingly told his agent to fuck off while at a song-writing camp in Santa Barbara).
He was lovingly casual with us, which only added to the intimate setting of the entire evening. At one point during the Q&A, an audience member shouted it was her birthday, to which SYML immediately led everyone to sing “Happy Birthday,” as he explained we haven’t been able to be part of this public humiliation in so long, it was a necessity. He told us of how his daughter designed the award he recently received for his single, “Girl” going gold in Canada, a song he wrote for her.
Two singles from his upcoming, untitled album, “Sweet Home,” and “You and I” were peppered into the performance as well. SYML promised the next album would be more upbeat, making a reference to how he is known as a sad songwriter.
SYML ended the evening by playing “War,” and “Everything All At Once,” which, without stopping the music, shifted into “Where’s My Love.”
After joyous cheers, the crowd seemed hesitant to leave, as if we were leaving an old friend’s house. Thank you for the wonderful night, Brian. It was truly lovely.
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