Surrounded by hundreds of friends, family and fans, Noah Gundersen looked out onto the Neptune Theatre crowd Saturday night and admitted something few artists will ever say: When he was scuffling, Gundersen couldn’t help but feel jealousy for those who had made it before him.
It’s not a pretty feeling, but like Gundersen’s powerful full-length debut, “Ledges,” the emotion was hard-earned and real. And now, entirely irrelevant.
Gundersen, 24, celebrated the release of “Ledges” with an intense set in front of a packed house notable for its youth and ardor. From the moment Gundersen opened the show with the mostly a cappella “Poor Man’s Son,” the show took on the feeling of religious revival meeting.
There was plenty of reason to display fanatical passion. “Boathouse,” the second track off “Ledges,” was a polished piece of modern folk music that highlighted Gundersen’s ear for hooks, while “Isaiah” and its minimalist fingerpicked guitar seemed to confirm that Gundersen worships at the altar of Bruce Springsteen.
Gundersen made sure to touch on some old songs as well. “Fire,” menacing in its slow-rolling fury, used the Neptune’s red stage lights to great effect as Gundersen sang, “And the Devil came to visit me/and said ‘Son, I am your enemy, fear me’/and he came to my surprise/I was drawn by the fire.”
It was a treat to see Gundersen playing with a full band, which gave his songs a nice, rich sound. However, it was a string of songs he played with just his sister, Abby, joining him that created some of the night’s best moments.
Another new song, “First Defeat,” told the story of dealing with a major, unpleasant break-up for the first time. Gundersen’s earnest delivery and the wisdom and regret he infused into his voice — along with his sister’s elegant harmonies and nifty keyboard work — elevated the song beyond the usual navel-gazing singer-songwriter tropes.
The crowd, champing at the bit to release some energy, got to do so by actually doing a pretty good job clapping along to “David,” which Gundersen noted was the “coolest” version of the song he’d ever played.
He closed things down with “Ledges,” a searing piece of roots rock that encapsulates where Gundersen is at in his life and also serves as an anchoring, pop-inspired single. But the crowd wouldn’t let him walk away that quickly, so he returned for an unplugged version of “Dying Now” before tacking on “Time Moves Quickly” as a fitting coda.
“Time moves quickly with or without me,” Gundersen sang. “You go fast and I’ll go slow.”
He may feel like he’s taken his time to get to this point, but things are going to be speeding up for Gundersen exponentially.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inandetails