Sensory Overload: Nathaniel Lotze continues the search at Tree Bar
Though a half-dozen people milled about while Nathaniel Lotze performed at Tree Bar on a recent Thursday, the singer-songwriter sounded decidedly alone for the duration of his 45-minute set.
Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica, Lotze, a Denver native who moved to Columbus in May following his graduation from Kenyon College, filled his songs with solitary characters who frequently crisscrossed the country in search of something more, be it love, peace of mind, or some greater understanding of the universe.
On "Like Cats and Dogs" one lonesome traveler journeyed eastward on the interstate, accompanied by little more than pervasive raindrops and the memories of an ex's smile. Another tune found the narrator navigating "the widowed hemisphere," just another in a sprawling community of lost souls. "We're just hoping we can find ourselves," Lotze sang, his voice hovering just above a whisper.
Occasionally this search led the musician to religion, and his songs included biblical references that ranged from the Old Testament (he crooned of Noah's Ark on the aptly titled "Before the Flood") to the New. "In the bible it says 'Jesus saves,'" he sang at the onset of "Shores of California." Even so, none of the songs performed here were overtly religious, and even these explorations of faith offered the characters populating the tunes only temporary respite.
As a songwriter, Lotze displayed a delicate touch, marrying gorgeous details that read like lines culled from poems (on one number a character daydreamed of a girl whose shoulder freckles "spread in a constellation") with more blunt assessments. "We're older/ It's all different," he offered on "Before the Flood." Occasionally the musician relied too heavily on forced rhyme, though more often he allowed the songs to traverse comparatively winding highways, much like the individuals given life by his songs.
While the musical soundtrack overwhelmingly tended toward the heavy-hearted - "Sometimes the Blues" functioned as both a song title and a descriptor of the dominant mood - there was never any sign of quit, and even the bleakest tunes were undercut with a gnawing sense of optimism.
"Somehow I still believe there's a promised land," Lotze sang hopefully on one tune, which is as good a reason as any to keep up the search.