Zach Sobiech at Varsity Theater, 2/16/13

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Erik Hess
Up, Up, Up: A Benefit for the Zach Sobiech Fund
With Vicci Martinez, Apollo Cobra, Kevin Bowe & the Okemah Prophets, and more
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Saturday, February 16, 2013

Forgive the heavy hearts at the Varsity Theater on Saturday. Zach Sobiech, a prodigious 17-year-old singer-songwriter from Lakeland was toasting the release of his new EP, but it was also a very public reminder of his story, even if the most specific references to it came through his songs.

As a benefit to help others afflicted with osteosarcoma, the bone tumor Sobiech developed in 2009, the young man put on an uplifting show with his band A Firm Handshake, the help of other locals, and excitable singer Vicci Martinez, who competed on the first season of The Voice

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Slideshow: Up, Up, Up: A Benefit for the Zach Sobiech Fund

It's a crazy thing for someone to be doubly lifted out of his childhood in a way, though. Though many young singers dream of getting to play their songs to adoring audiences someday, it's usually with the knowledge that they have many years ahead. Their songs can be filled with hope, inspiration and the dreams of the days to come -- all the language of becoming a star. And that's what one heard in Vicci Martinez's work that night. With just an acoustic guitar, the spunky Tacoma, Washington resident belted out her songs -- with her mouth open as wide as Adele, but with a coffee-shop simplicity to her solo presence onstage.

Photo by Erik Hess
With a mix of her originals like "Enjoy the Ride," a song about embracing the present, and a cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," she commanded the stage and brought a response from the young viewers and their parents alike in the crowd. She was beside herself in talking about the inspirational power of Sobiech. "This is one of the most important shows I've ever done," she said at one point.  

Prior to Martinez's set, Sobiech and his bandmates in A Firm Handshake surged through the folksy arrangements of the songs on their Fix Me Up EP. Even with vocalist Sammy Brown carrying the bulk of the singing, beautifully conjuring the flourishes of the Cranberries' Delores O'Riordan, it was tough to not turn one's eyes back to Sobiech.  

Photo by Erik Hess
Songwriting has long been a tool to express the aches and worries of difficult living -- and the examples of artists who met early and tragic ends, like Elliott Smith or Jeff Buckley, are numerous. The difference for Sobiech, however, is he has a disease beyond his control, but his mind is sharp, and the situation completely in his comprehension. So, with the straight-ahead lyrics of "Fix Me Up" ("I know you're in pain, just please don't show it") and "Coffee Cup" ("I would like to know myself before I have to die"), he can pair the deepest issues of the human condition with the light-hearted arrangements of youth. Trying to pack a lifetime's worth of expression into a short time is a tall order, but he's doing it.

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