"Lend Me Your Voice"
Nelson Music Room, Duke University, Durham
November 1, 2013
Premiering Friday, Nick Sanborn's "Lend Me Your Voice" program sought to highlight musicians who often occupy supporting roles. All seven players—Sanborn included and surrounded by guitarist William Tyler, bassist Bradley Cook and many others—have shifted at least some focus to their own pursuits, and the night offered promising glimpses of several upcoming works. But what made the show special was watching them support each other. Each is known for making the sort of subtle gestures—a crisp guitar lick here, a well-timed drum roll there—that can elevate a performance from solid to exceptional. Gathered together, they made almost every song feel like a rare treat, a fleeting pleasure never to be heard again.
Playing in the round at the center of Duke University's intimate Nelson Music Room, the musicians joined Sanborn one at a time. The Megafaun bassist offered rambling but insightful commentary on each artist's career before they played a song solo. They then joined whoever else was onstage and played one more. Once everyone had taken the stage, all six got a chance to front the whole group. These full-band renderings were by far the most compelling.
Nashville guitarist Tyler started with a wispy, unguarded performance of "Tears and Saints," a poignant solo piece from his first album. It was gripping, but his subsequent offerings were better. Backed by Sanborn on bass and Megafaun mate Brad Cook on guitar, Tyler turned in a version of "Cadillac Desert" that was full but delicate, punctuated by Sanborn's probing plucks and Cook's patient drone. "The Green Pastures," which he performed with the full ensemble, benefited mightily from moving pedal steel—courtesy of Field Report's Chris Porterfield—and the smooth cries of Amelia Meath and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. Tyler's recordings—particularly on this year's Impossible Truth—build his driving patterns into rich but restrained orchestrations. Friday, he was able to pull that off live.
"Lend Me Your Voice" was defined and elevated by such moments. Megafaun drummer Joe Westerlund showed off some of the tunes he creates as Grandma Sparrow, tales from his own twisted fairy tale where he plays all of the characters. Solo, he was hilarious, skillfully smacking cymbals and skins as he interacted with pitch-shifted recordings of his voice. Away from the drum kit with everyone else backing him, he was able to accent his whimsy with more pronounced gestures and expressions.
There were many moments like this—Porterfield's sweeping "Pale Rider," Cook's weary recasting of the Megafaun song "Real Slow"—where one player's strengths were amplified by the kindred spirits surrounding them. These artists know well that collaborating is a two-way street, that you give it 100 percent whether you're leading the band or just holding down a steady groove. Friday night, there were no weak links, just seven talented people working apart and together.
The INDY caught a few essential moments on video, thanks to Dan Schram:
Thee Oh Sees, Whatever Brains
Krankies Coffee, Winston-Salem
October 31, 2013
About halfway through "I Come From the Mountain," just as Thee Oh Sees' tenacious groove reached a fever pitch that wouldn't break for another hour, two crowd-surfers met in the middle of the room. One of the dudes climbed on top of the other, grabbing his comrade by the shirt and shaking him with blind elation. It lasted only a moment, as their combined weight soon brought them crashing to the ground (happily without injury), but it got after what makes this San Francisco foursome so engaging: Their ferocity never necessitates brutality.
On Halloween night in Winston-Salem, they whipped a packed Krankies into frenzy. Second guitarist Petey Dammit stoked the engines with sharp fills and unstoppable bass lines as Mike Shoun hit snares and toms with the efficiency of pistons. But Thee Oh Sees were elevated most by their frontman: John Dwyer's crazed guitar melodies, delivered on a flashy clear-body SG, accented and instigated the group's unstoppable pulse, flitting from krautrock vigor to psych-surf flare, while his buds held the middle ground. His presence—along with precise harmonies from keyboardist Brigid Dawson—allowed them to tear through variations of the same infectious rhythm. The possibilities seemed infinite.
Man, The Rosebuds really love holidays: Last year, the Raleigh-nurtured duo of Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp released an entire full-length of Christmas songs, a move that felt a little uncharacteristic. After all, The Rosebuds don't revel in chipper melodies like their yuletide-favorite label mates She & Him; their records are more often dominated by foreboding atmosphere and dark imagery. To wit, see the entirety of 2007's Night of the Furies. "Whisper" and "Where the Freaks Hang Out," the two horror-themed singles they released this Halloween week, stick closer to their strengths, making appropriate fun of their oft-gloomy vibe.
"Whisper"—which comes with a cinematic video about a monster hunter out for zombies, with a reanimated Howard among their ranks—moves like a Furies B-side. Its threatening throb is graced by spectral synth and guitar, as Howard relates a surprisingly thoughtful ghost story. "Where the Freaks Hang Out"—inspired by the 1967 Rankin/Bass special Mad Monstery Party?— is far more campy, but no less fun. The video features karaoke lyrics and a band of marionette miscreants. In the song, Howard is led to a very real haunted house, filled with werewolves, ghosts and assorted ghouls. Future Islands frontman Sam Herring interrupts with his gravelly incantation, channeling Vincent Price a la "Thriller" with hilarious accuracy. Check out both videos below, and, for a special holiday treat, download the extended version of "Where the Freaks Hang Out," featuring an intro from Herring.
"Where the Freaks Hang Out"
"Rites"—our first taste of Past Life, Lost in the Trees' new LP, due Feb. 18 via ANTI—isn't a great single. That's not to say that it's a bad song. Premiered Monday by Rolling Stone along a with minimal, sing-along video, its arrangement is airy and calming. Back-up singers and reverb follow Ari Picker's ever-delicate singing, intimate emotions expanding subtly like ripples on a pond. The music is skeletal, with guitars and bass that mainly keep time and a few piano notes to fill in the gaps. Following two albums of string-buttressed sorrow and redemption, Picker promised that the new record would strip back and focus on different feelings; "Rites" achieves at least one of those goals.
It's pretty, but it feels slight without context. The group's recent live sets traded strings for more distortion and more guitars, and it's easy to imagine "Rites" as a clearing of the air between more challenging inclusions—one of which might be "Lady in White," a haunting electro-ballad streaming without explanation on the band's website.
"Rites" also reaches for references the band has yet to provide. "Where does your art come from?" Picker whispers at one point, appearing to answer his own question: "The lion and the lamb." On its own, the couplet carries little definitive meaning, but it could easily work as part of an album-spanning conversation, like the ones have elevated Lost in the Trees' past LPs.