Eleanor Friedberger, Stuart McLamb, Invisible Hand
Cat’s Cradle Back Room, Carrboro
Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013
When the doors to Cat’s Cradle’s new Back Room
opened to the public for the first time Saturday night, it was an hour later than advertised. A meager line had formed in the alley behind the storied club, but the club wasn’t quite ready to receive it. Earlier in the week, owner Frank Heath confessed to the INDY
, “It's not as done as I'd like it to be.”
Still, despite the minor delay, the doors parted to reveal a clean, mod-industrial space with fresh paint, exposed rafters and a generous, well-lit stage. The bar was operating cash-only and served its beers from a big plastic cooler, but the service was efficient.
Openers The Invisible Hand
—a Charlottesville, Va., four-piece with a knack for knotty, off-kilter pop—quickly showcased the sonic benefits of the space. From my vantage point in the balcony over the bar (a feature reminiscent of gone-but-beloved Carrboro showrooms Go! Studios and The Reservoir), the band sounded larger than life. Adam Smith’s vocals were clear and resounding, more pronounced than a small club usually allows. It lent the band’s dynamic pop a polish typically reserved for more popular acts on larger stages.
It wasn’t a fluke, either. Love Language leader Stuart McLamb
benefited from the room’s complementary acoustics, as well, as he stripped his band’s lush productions into affecting and sparse ballads. Songs like “Nightdogs” and “Pilot Light” were more pointed and powerful with McLamb’s expressive tenor accompanied only by electric guitar. He called former Light Pines drummer Tom Simpson to join him for the set’s latter half, together building a fuller sound and more momentum but also casting the stark confessional of McLamb’s solo set into relief. With a closing rendition of “Stars,” McLamb and Simpson managed both approaches, dropping back during the verses to let McLamb’s aching croon fill the room before surging into instrumental breaks for dynamic emphasis.
The venue’s listening-room atmosphere proved vital for headliner Eleanor Friedberger
, whose detailed lyrics suggest short fiction and whose arrangements are plenty intricate. Those qualities seemed emboldened by the space’s rich, resonant acoustics. Drawing heavily from this year’s strong sophomore effort, Personal Record
, Friedberger led a poised quintet with a casual presence that coaxed the pleasantly full crowd to edge closer to the stage. Big enough to accommodate the five musicians comfortably and small enough to ensure a close proximity to the audience, the Back Room’s stage almost guarantees an intimate performance. Friedberger’s set proved a worthy headliner for the Back Room’s grand opening, just as the room proved a strong complement for all three acts, making strong performances stronger.