The Commotion and Community of Henry Finch & the Capacity Ensemble | Music Feature | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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The Commotion and Community of Henry Finch & the Capacity Ensemble


Published September 11, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.

Henry Finch - LUKE  AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Henry Finch

When watching Henry Finch & the Capacity Ensemble play for the first time, it's not immediately evident which member is Henry Finch. It wouldn't be outrageous to think that maybe there is no Henry Finch. Edward Sharpe, Hootie and Steely Dan aren't real people, after all. Onstage, something in the ever-evolving cluster of Burlington-area players' freewheeling energy belies the fact that Henry Finch is not only real but is reservedly masterminding the show.

In concert, Finch, 35, sits unassumingly behind his piano, supporting his cohort. The bespectacled, curly-haired artist doesn't sing solo, showboat on the keys or even act as MC. Instead, he lets the group simply be the monstrous, undulating mass of soulful rockness it needs to be. Catch Henry Finch & the Capacity Ensemble's last show of 2019 on Friday, September 20, at Radio Bean in Burlington. (The band is named for that café's low capacity, and how quickly a big group can help reach it.)

"I'm not the core of the band," Finch insists while drinking coffee on his Old North End porch. The statement is and isn't true — really, it's a matter of semantics. Finch is largely the group's songwriter. But because of his loose leadership style and how the team functions, what audiences hear is a wholly communal effort.

"Henry writes the songs, and we cover them," Capacity Ensemble member Adaline Herbert writes in an email.

With elements of '70s piano rock and gospel-inflected R&B, Henry Finch & the Capacity Ensemble fill a void in the Queen City's music scene that most probably didn't even know existed. Anywhere from five to eight dedicated foreground vocalists sing in both unison and harmony over an assemblage of multiple instrumentalists, which can range from a standard rock setup to one with woodwinds and strings. The band has gigged relatively stripped down but also has substituted harpsichord for piano. Not many local groups operate in such a fluid and unpredictable way.

Only a few recordings of the saucy posse are available for consumption. The meandering "Nearness," a boozy anthem about the desperation of a life without intimacy, is one of the group's flagship tunes. Seen and heard online only in a one-take YouTube video, the plodding, bluesy song features layered vocal harmonies that abruptly shift to a deathly shriek after the words "Everybody shout" are sung. This kind of uninhibited, expressive risk taking is emblematic.

"It's almost the illusion of chaos, but it's wound up tightly in these amazing songs," says bandmate Ethan Tapper.

Currently, Henry Finch & the Capacity Ensemble's catalog of music is relatively slim, making them a largely experiential project. A lone studio recording, a silken R&B gem called "Without You," is available on Bandcamp. Producer extraordinaire Urian Hackney (of Rough Francis fame) produced the track at his Burlington studio, the Box. Though Henry Finch & the Capacity Ensemble generally sing as a group, the song features scorching solo vocals from Hackney's brother, Julian.

Finch is a relative newcomer to Burlington's music scene. The North Carolina native arrived in the Queen City in 2016 after spending years in Maine and the Boston area and a stint at the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. A poet as well as instrumentalist, Finch has been published nationally as well as locally in journals such as Green Mountains Review.

Browsing the writer's selected works highlighted on his website makes it clear that Finch is a Renaissance man. A deeply personal treatise on creativity, published in North American Review, is particularly noteworthy. Also worth reading: a facetious, epicurean journey through an entire box of frosted-confetti-cupcake-flavored Pop-Tarts written for McSweeney's Internet Tendency. In his literary endeavors, Finch seamlessly switches from highbrow to lowbrow.

With a few local contacts established before moving to Vermont, Finch started connecting with area musicians soon after landing. The band's first outing was in December 2017. Over the next year, the band evolved into the furious powerhouse it is now.

Henry Finch and the Capacity Ensemble have no set lineup. Honestly, who's onstage at a given show is likely whoever was available. The group does, however, share a few key members with the similarly chaotic Burlington garage punks, the Bubs — Finch, Herbert, Tapper, Joe O'Brien and Ian Hartman among them. Both troupes evolved somewhat side by side with a similar "spirit of play," says Finch.

"[We're] both experimenting with the magic that happens when you get all your friends together and make a band," says Tapper, the Bubs' bandleader. "It translates into this really sharable and special experience."

Friendship and hanging out are the group's core values, as is freedom of expression.

"I want it to be a permissive space where people can be themselves — the most themselves they can," Finch says. "That means being permissive to not everyone playing the same part, [or] not having the same level of musicianship or musical ability."

"I get the feeling he would be thrilled if I burst into a spontaneous water-gargling solo," Herbert writes of Finch.

Despite his obvious and diverse talent, Finch insists on keeping his ego in check.

"I don't have a desire to put myself above anyone in the community," he says. The truth of that statement is evident in his lack of desire for the spotlight.

Given that Henry Finch & the Capacity Ensemble and the Bubs are structured similarly — wild party vibes, a mass of bodies onstage — it's understandable if things get tricky for the shared members as they bounce back and forth between projects. But Finch and Tapper (who, coincidentally, are next-door neighbors) have their own leadership styles and have found ways to navigate the power dynamics at play as they cede control to one another.

"We've formed a cool partnership," says Tapper.

Tapper thinks he leads with a fairly loose attitude, but compared to Finch, he "looks rigid." That's not to say Finch's seemingly blasé approach indicates a lack of concern. Rather, he seems to have some kind of unspoken pact with the universe that things will just work out. He even has a motto for it.

"If someone takes a risk, and it doesn't come out in a way that they hoped for, it's another night on Earth," he says.

Henry Finch & the Capacity Ensemble perform on Friday, September 20, 11:30 p.m., at Radio Bean in Burlington. 18+. $5.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Crowded House | The commotion and community of Henry Finch & the Capacity Ensemble"