“This is almost scarier,” Gracie Abrams told the crowd during the first of her sold-out intimate performances with Aaron Dessner. The two, who had worked together at Dessner’s Long Pond Studios to create her recent album, took the stage at The McKittrick Hotel in New York City. For two artists of their level of prominence, the acoustic decision provided fans with a truly special experience to connect with their favorite artists in such a small space.
Upon entering the hotel for the first time, it felt like a fitting spot to host a heartfelt and emotional performance. They took fans up in a dimly-lit elevator, with the decorations feeling vintage (and eerily similar to Tower of Terror, as I joked to my roommate.)
The set opened shortly after with the catchy “I Know It Won’t Work,” the second track from Abrams’ Good Riddance. Joined by Dessner on guitar, the collaborators started to show fans exactly why they work together, as their dynamic (both musically and personally) shined through almost instantly.
The duo followed it with “Best,” being the first of beloved bridges throughout the night, as the crowd scream-sung along, pouring their hearts out with a relatability to what Abrams sings about. Dessner also switched to playing piano, adding an extra emotional layer.
After the two songs, Abrams and Dessner took some time to talk to the crowd. They hinted at the possibility that they’re still working on new music. Fans going to other acoustic shows in different cities will also receive personalized setlists — making each appearance feel singular.
“Unless we just start playing new songs, you have no idea,” she said. “They’re so fun and good.” Those in the audience had thrown out names of songs they wanted to hear, including “Augusta” from Abrams’ This Is What It Feels Like. While that didn’t make it in New York, she did opt for the even-more-emotional “Camden” from the same record. “Maybe you’ll cry still,” Abrams added before starting the song.
Before “Rockland,” Dessner also revealed that, when working together, they had titled the songs after different cities around Maine. The two also touched on the magic of working at Long Pond Studios and why a lot of the songs that are made there turn out quite sad — not just with Abrams, but with other artists too.
Despite the sadder nature of the songs, including ones like “This Is What The Drugs Are For,” Abrams still managed to bring the energy back up with the bridge of “I Should Hate You.” The crowd shouted along with her, “I should hate you, I feel stupid / Like I almost crashed my car.”
Compared to the large stages that both Abrams and Dessner had previously commanded, this one was stripped of any background visuals. The only changes between some of the songs were the lights, which switched between blue, red, and a pink and purple combination, depending on the song. The McKittrick also had these glowing planets hanging from the ceiling, providing a creative touch that I hadn’t seen in a venue before.
The speakers also propelled the sound all the way to the back, where the merch stand was. Because of this, it made the crowd singing “Happy Birthday” to Abrams a sweet experience. (She turned 24 the following day.)
Keeping with the spirit, Dessner teased a riddle earlier in the set, hinting that something else was coming tied to the show being held on Abrams’ last day of being 23. The result was a ground-shaking cover of Taylor Swift’s “Right Where You Left Me” that drove the audience to more cheers and screaming along.
Abrams joked that Swift’s song had quite a lot of words, so she relied on her phone to guide the way. In any other set, the move would make the musician look unrehearsed. But this wasn’t a typical concert. And Abrams still carrying the song while reading from her phone was both a testament to her focus as a performer and the carefree, impromptu feeling of the event. While Dessner and Abrams likely knew they wanted to cover it beforehand, it felt like something they silently decided on during an earlier part of the set.
The only real complaint was being a little bummed that “The Blue” didn’t make the setlist, just as a personal favorite, but it didn’t take away from the one-of-a-kind performance. Given that Abrams and Dessner are bringing the acoustic show to Nashville and Los Angeles, those who admire their work and are attending are surely in for a treat — and maybe, even some new surprise songs.