Ballads, Blues and Brass

by Karissa Perry

Photography courtesy of Karissa Perry

Continuing on his Dancing Days tour, singer-songwriter Ron Pope delivered everything from his beloved pop ballads to the edgier, country-rock anthems indicative of his latest album Work. Neither was short of passion or audience response as the Georgia native sang his bluesy heart out on Friday night.

The night started off with Pope’s good friend Zach Berkman, known as The Heart Of, performing some of his acoustic singles as well as his latest release, “Empire.” The one-man show was stripped down and simple, with Berkman giving heartfelt vocals while strumming fiercely on his guitar.

Berkman’s performance smoothly transitioned into Ages and Ages, a five-member band that kicked up the crowd’s energy. With psychedelic instrumentals and repeating harmonies and chants, the band’s folk-alternative sound made for an engaging opener, especially during the upbeat song “Light Goes Out.”

The audience’s anticipation to see Pope grew as the night went on and turned into an excited uproar when he finally appeared. However, instead of a flashy entrance and explosive song, the headliner simply walked on stage with his guitar to perform “Work,” a reflective piece off his newest album of the same name.

“I realized early on that it (the album Work) was the story of my life,” Pope said. “There are songs about me about being a child, songs about being a little boy, and the song “Work,” my teacher, she really did tell my mother that she thought I should go to trade school because the only way to tame a boy like me was to teach him to trade and get him to work.”

While known by many for the pop ballads and poetic lyrics of his “A Drop in the Ocean” era, Pope also revealed himself to be a soul-filled rocker. Especially in the brassy “Bad for Your Health,” Pope held nothing back as he jerked around the stage, ripping out guitar chords and showcasing some Bruce Springstein-esque vocals.

With a full line of musicians including a trumpeter, cellist and violinist, the concert had no shortage of sounds. During “Someday We’re All Gonna Die,” the show switched to the country side of things with an array of instrumental interludes and an added banjo for some twang. Pope stared into the crowd while singing and seemingly telling a story.

“I don’t have a process at all,” said Pope, describing his writing techniques. “A line will cross through my head, sometimes I play guitar and a riff will inspire me, sometimes it’s a chorus on guitar or on piano, somebody could say something to me and I could write it down, you know. I’m always humming little melodies into my phone, writing things down, so for me, it can be any number of things.”

Pope called upon his 2012 album Atlanta to hype up the audience with the catchy “One Grain of Sand,” and later settle them down with fan-favorite “In My Bones,” in which he took a break from guitar to go back to the keyboard. With a single spotlight on Pope and the audience singing along, it made for a special moment of the night.

The real showstopper, however, was the encore.

Pope played the well-known riff of “A Drop in the Ocean,” as he gave the audience a brief retelling of how he and Berkman developed the Internet hit. He then paused for an excruciating moment before launching into the acclaimed song with over 100 million streams on Spotify to date.

“When I was a child and I felt strange or different because I was doing my own things, I would listen to music and feel connected with other people and I would feel that other people understood me.” Pope said.

The singer concluded by stripping the instruments and extending the ballad to sing the chorus one last time with the audience.