Monday, April 5th, 2010
Shearwater, Wye Oak and Hospital Ships at Lee’s Palace in Toronto
Frank YangI’ve seen Shearwater’s latest album The Golden Archipelago referred to as the final part in both a trilogy and triptych in the band’s discography, completing the set started with 2006’s Palo Santo and 2008’s Rook. The “trilogy” appellation doesn’t really fit, however, as it implies that there’s some sort of overarching narrative across the records whereas the single unified tapestry implied by calling it triptych seems much more appropriate. Not that these are anything more than semantics – what is important is that The Golden Archipelago more than measures up to the immense heights set by Palo Santo and Rook.
Since putting aside their original mandate as the softer side of Okkervil River and becoming Jonathan Meiburg’s primary creative outlet, the Austin, Texas band have dedicated themselves to capturing the mystery and wonder of nature in the musical medium of prog/folk-rock and in the process, have carved a unique niche for themselves in the indie-rock landscape. The Golden Archipelago finds the band expanding their palette – though they’ve never restricted themselves to conventional instrumentation, the tones and textures at play here are more otherworldly than ever – while actually streamlining their songwriting into more pop-sized packages. No one would likely To be able to capture as much drama and majesty as they do without feeling rushed is an amazing achievement – “Castaways” lasts just three and a quarter minutes, but feels absolutely epic.
Epic is also a proper adjective to apply to Shearwater’s live shows, where they somehow manage to recreate the expansiveness of their recorded works. Since the first time I saw them in 2005 opening up for Mountain Goats, I’d been waiting for them to come back to Toronto in a headlining capacity but they’d been the perpetual undercard, at least until this past Thursday night when finally, it was “Shearwater” in big letters atop the Lee’s Palace marquee. Or at least the chalkboard outside the front door.
Anyone walking into Lee’s at around 9 and seeing Hospital Ships on stage would be forgiven for thinking they’d arrived two hours late and the headliner was already on. At various points in their set, the Lawrence, Kansas outfit included anywhere from three to five members of Shearwater, including frontman Jordan Geiger, also of Minus Story. Geiger apologized at one point for any sloppiness, saying they’d only been together a little while – maybe he was being ironic, considering how long the individuals on stage had been playing together in other projects – but it true that Hospital Ships weren’t exactly drum-tight up there, with some missed notes, cues and whatnot. But what they were was charming – Geiger was equipped with some pretty choice banter about visiting Toronto – and some solid, if not overwhelming tunes from their album Oh, Ramona.
Almost as long as I’d been waiting for Shearwater to come to town in a headlining capacity had I been waiting for Baltimore’s Wye Oak to come back to town, having missed their last appearance in May of 2008. I had seen them before though, back at SxSW 2008, a month before their debut If Children came out, and that show – like the album – spoke to me more about their potential than what they had actually accomplished at the time. A potential that was realized in a big way with last year’s follow-up The Knot, and happily that big leap forward has also carried over to their live show. Though it was still just Andy Stark behind the drum kit with keyboard and melodica at his side and Jenn Wasner on vocals and guitar, their confidence in what they were doing was clearly much greater and it made for a much more engaging performance. Stark’s ability to simultaneously manage the drums and keys was something to behold and Wasner put on a pretty impressive display of guitar heroics amidst leading the band’s aching, country-tinged dreampop. World take note – there’s not just one Baltimore-based duo out there right now that’s worthy of your notice.
Shearwater’s arrival onstage was heralded by a total dimming of the stage lights, an aesthetic choice that would sadly (for photographers, anyways) remain in effect through the whole show except for the one number where Meiburg asked, “how dark can we make it in here?”. But all the necessary luminosity for the night would be provided by their music, which would cover most of The Golden Archipelago and a handful of tracks from each of Rook and Palo Santo, all of which fit so well with each other that perhaps it should be mandated that all three are listened to in their entirety and in sequence. While Meiburg stayed in the (figurative) spotlight on either guitar or keys and of course his soaring voice, the band around him morphed with each song, adding and subtracting players and changing instruments as necessary. As always, Thor Harris proved himself the band’s secret weapon, not only handling the complex percussion that both anchors and buoys Shearwater’s sounds, but stepping out front on clarinet and teaming with bassist Kim Burke on the dueling glockenspiels of “Hidden Lakes”. Being the first time I’d seen them in a non-support, non-festival setting, it was the longest Shearwater set I’d seen – an hour-long main set plus two-song encore – and the extra time and lack of curfew really did allow the band the necessary space to properly stretch out and spread its wings. Simply grand.
Photos: Shearwater, Wye Oak, Hospital Ships @ Lee’s Palace – April 1, 2010
MP3: Shearwater – “Black Eyes”
MP3: Shearwater – “Castaways”
MP3: Shearwater – “Rooks”
MP3: Shearwater – “The Snow Leopard”
MP3: Shearwater – “Red Sea, Black Sea”
MP3: Shearwater – “Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five”
MP3: Shearwater – “I Can’t Wait”
MP3: Shearwater – “Room For Mistakes”
MP3: Shearwater – “An Accident”
MP3: Wye Oak – “Take It In”
MP3: Wye Oak – “Warning”
MP3: Hospital Ships – “Bitter Radio Single”
MySpace: Wye Oak
Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan talks to Metro about their first new record in almost a decade, due out later this year. Mac and Jim Wilbur will be in town on Wednesday to play a special acoustic set at The Royal following the screening of the film Passenger Side, which features their music (amongst others) and stars the guy with the unreasonably large jaw from Party Down. NOW talks to director Matt Bissonnette about the film.
PitchforkTV has a Tunnel Vision live video of Memory Tapes from the same show I was at. I only spent a little bit of the video trying to see if I could spot myself – the rest was remembering how marvelously well Memory Tapes works and sounds live. You might not expect it, but ’tis true.
Having now (presumably) recovered from the equipment theft that forced the cancellation of last week’s show at the Drake, Toro Y Moi has set a new date at Wrongbar for April 17.
UK punk forbears Buzzcocks have scheduled a North American tour to coincide with the re-release of their first three albums, Another Music In Another Kitchen, Love Bites and Different Kind Of Tension, wherein they’ll be playing the first two in their entirety in addition to other classic tracks. Spin has the full tour itinerary, which includes a May 19 date at the Opera House in Toronto.
Video: Buzzcocks – “What Do I Get”
Video: Turin Brakes – “Sea Change”
And while we’ve yet to see an official NXNE press release, some of the bigger names who’ll be at the festival have started leaking out – LA punk legends X and Seattle grunge forebears Mudhoney are doing a free show at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 17 and Man… Or Astroman and Mudhoney are playing the Horseshoe on June 18. Not a bad start.