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Hand Habits perform breathtaking new album “placeholder” at Songbyrd

Basking in the orange glow of soft lights, Meg Duffy, John Andrews and Keven Lareau of Hand Habits took on a full house at the Songbyrd Music House on April 12.  Duffy leads Los Angeles band, Hand Habits. Although this is Duffy’s first solo project, they have an extensive background in music, most notably as a touring band member with Kevin Morby. Their most recent album, “placeholder,” came out in early March of 2019. This is their second time performing at Songbyrd. Duffy references the growth in their audience, “It’s very very cool to see more than 30 people.” 

Duffy and Andrews begin the set with a rush of sound. Their magnetic harmonies, absolutely in tune with one another, flood the venue like a river, pulling the crowd in. Duffy’s tonality is breathtakingly gentle yet powerful. Their voices weave in and out of one another with a grand ease and naturality that radiates off the stage. They have a unique control of the crowd, compelling people to pay attention. 

Susceptibility takes center stage as Duffy forlornly sings in “yr heart,” “And I let you see the part of me / They called it understanding / They call it vulnerability / And your voice sang oh / Says I will not harm you / I will not alarm you.” Duffy, with a twinge of sarcasm, explains to the audience, that, although it may be hard to sit through long sets, it is just as hard for the artist to stand on a stage and sing about experiences that were difficult and painful for them. “It’s a give and take, you know?” said Duffy. “I’m just being honest. I lie sometimes too, but I’m being honest.”

Duffy’s lyrics and presentation make you leave the show glowing, having learned something. The lyrics make you feel as though you are learning along with Duffy, entering their world and coming away as another person. In “pacify,” Duffy sings, “I don’t want to pacify you,” in the loveliest minor key, in such a way that I felt as though I understood, as though their struggle was almost palpable or tangible. Their words are so clearly enunciated, not far from their speaking voice. They explain, “I don’t like talking loudly,” between their songs.

As Duffy nears the end of the concert, they begin to incorporate incredibly layered guitar solos, breaking through the fabric of the sound and expertly moving up and down the fretboard as Andrews plays out a crisp beat. The guitar is almost surprising, cutting through the quietness of the venue, but it is certainly not out of place or off-putting. As it filters off the stage, the crowd begins to dance a little more.

When Duffy is not singing, they are swaying their head back and forth, feeling the lyrics that hang in the air, feeling the ache of the yearning that comes with knowledge and experience. Hand Habits are touring with Tasha, who join Hand Habits on stage for an encore. They perform a carefully executed cover of “Save Me” by Fleetwood Mac, playing themselves out with a captivating sound.