A month or so ago I had the opportunity of seeing The Welcome Wagon, a band consisting of husband and wife duo Vito and Monique Aiuto. I had listened to The Welcome Wagon a bit prior to hearing that they were playing a show as a part of a conference for Covenant Theological Seminary in my hometown, but hadn’t invested a lot of time listening to their entire album. Either way, I knew I had to go see them, if anything, for the simple fact that Sufjan Stevens produced their album.
Another reason I wanted to make it to the show was because these two don’t tour often because Vito is actually a full time pastor over Resurrection Presbyterian Church up in Brooklyn, New York. How they started their musical endeavors is also quite interesting- after Vito and Monique were married they decided that they wanted their children to grow up with music in the home, so Vito tried taking up the piano, but that didn’t work very well so he tried the guitar. They began playing and recording with friends on a whim, but after a while, one of their recordings appeared on Asthmatic Kitty’s compilation To Spirit Back the Mews (2001). Since then, they’ve recorded intermittently and gone on a few short tours here and there.
The show was small, in a church chapel. The room had an open floor below the stage, and a balcony bordering the walls up above. I couldn’t recruit any of my friends to go so I opted to go alone (which really, in my opinion, they all missed out!). Liz Janes, another artist on the Asthmatic Kitty label opened with her own rendition of a hymn on a ukulele, then switched to an electric guitar for the rest of her set. Her music was simple and soulful, you could just tell from watching her play and sing what a genuine, lovely person she is.
Next up was the music of Timbre Cierpke, a harpist with a beautiful, full voice. I’ve fallen in love with her song I Will Go Plant Little Flowers- watch the new music video for the song here on youtube. Most of her set consisted of her playing harp and her sister playing a miniature piano or tamborine, but for the last song they were joined by a band with an upright bass, violin, and drums.
Finally Vito and Monique played their songs with a full band consisting of four background singers, drums, upright bass, electric guitar, as well as Vito’s acoustic guitar, and Monique’s glockenspiel and keyboard. The two faced each other during the show, almost playing to one another. They played many songs from their album and occasionally threw in a few new songs here and there. I love watching them play because they are just about the most “normal” musicians I’ve ever seen play. They’re songs are so natural, honest, and full of praise and thanks to Jesus for what he has done. Many of their songs are their own renditions of old hymns, but they also have quite a few originals. I loved how they connected with the audience of 150 or so during the show, at one point they gave away some cheese and sausage from their homestate to the person who had traveled furthest for the conference. During they’re song “But for You Who Fear My Name”, they had the crowd stomping and clapping along, recreating the sound on the album.
They’re songs are so quaint, lovely, and edifying, that for me, it was difficult not to admire and truly love them and their music. I met Vito afterwards and he was so kind. I told him I loved watching them play and you could tell he was genuinely glad that their music has touched people like me. I bought their album shortly after the show and have listened to it quite a bit…I just love their lyrics.
Another side note is that back in October when I saw Sufjan Stevens, I was interested in seeing who was playing in his band on tour, so I researched that a bit, but not extensively. I figured maybe people connected with Sufjan other than Vito and Monique might be there, but wasn’t sure. While Liz Janes was playing I noticed this guy in the crowd and he looked familiar- and thought maybe he was one of Sufjan’s drummers, but wasn’t positive. A little later he went on stage to adjust the drums and eventually when it was The Welcome Wagon’s turn to play, he played drums in their band. By the magic of my blackberry, I figured out that it was James McAlister. I was sort of excited about this, especially because I had seen him touring with Sufjan a few months back. I never talked to him, but I wish I had. He’s quite the notable musician, he’s played for Pedro the Lion, My Brightest Diamond, and others.
If you haven’t listened to The Welcome Wagon, take a listen here. I’m pretty sure you’ll like them.