i wonder, am i on your mind?

The Majestic Theater in Madison, Wisconsin played host to the final stop of Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore‘s Dear Companion tour on April 3, 2010. Sollee and Moore, along with Cheyenne Marie Mize and Dan Dorff, played to a criminally small crowd, leading to an intimate and conversational production.

Kentuckians Sollee & Moore teamed up with producer Yim Yames to create an album drawing attention to the effects both environmental and cultural of mountaintop-removal coal mining in their home state and surrounding Appalachia. Throughout the evening, Moore and Sollee shared tales of contaminated drinking water, boulders rolling down mountains into communities, and the deteriorating landscape, framing the context for the music without being preachy. Really, though, the music itself spoke loudest of all.

Opening with “Something, Somewhere, Somehow”, the band’s talent became immediately apparent as they launched into an excellent instrumental outro instead of stopping abruptly as heard on the album version. Mize’s golden voice, especially in combination with Sollee’s bell-clear timbre, gave the harmonies beautiful dimension. Dorff employed himself as percussion on several songs, slapping, tapping, and clapping his way into the spotlight, and Moore brought things back into focus by sitting on the edge of the stage for an unamplified rendition of “Flyrock Blues”. Other songs of note were “Sweet Marie” and “Dear Companion”, based on a goodbye letter written by a trapped miner and the only song on the album to be written for the project by both Sollee and Moore.

Late in the show, the group came together to share a mic and perform a couple of a capella folk tunes, furthering paying homage to the rich musical history of their home. People’s surroundings inevitably influence their creations, and by the end of the night one wondered if the landscape would be the region’s only casualty.

For more info on mountaintop removal, click here.
Check out our photos from the show: album | slideshow.

Something, Somewhere, Somehow, My Wealth Comes to Me, Needn’t Say A Thing, Only A Song, Dear Companion, Flyrock Blues, Try, Sweet Marie, + a sampling of covers & solo work

do you fall asleep dreaming?

A guest review of Cataldo, The Old Believers, and Laura Veirs at Madison, WI’s The Frequency on February 28, 2010 by Drew Mosley:

Cataldo opened the show with a really low-key stage presence while maintaining an intriguing lyrical style and physical connection to the songs. Alone on stage, Eric Anderson’s sound was engineered to elicit the auditory illusion of one man sitting in an empty auditorium amidst the reverberations of his songs. Self-accompanied and using minimalist rhythms, he played clipped melodies left to echo while he voiced the Pacific Northwest sound – a sweet amalgam of Ben Gibbard’s hollow tenor with the vocal tics of Colin Meloy.

Nelson Kempf, frontman of The Old Believers, opened unannounced and a capella, with the audience eager to keep a hand-clapped beat. An outwardly self-conscious stage presence and apparent lack of confidence did undermine some of the sweeter moments in his set, though what he was lacking in charisma he compensated with earnestness. On full-band recordings, The Old Believers vacillate sounds, at times portraying an unproduced She & Him while at other times sounding more like the poppy Ingrid Michaelson or Fiest. Kempf’s “Granny’s Song” addressed the audience as a love note to Mason Jennings in vocal style, delivery, and highlighted the similarities in song structure.

Possibly owing to the small amount of finished songs capable of performance without his partner, Keeley Boyle, Kempf brought merch-man Dhani on stage for a strange three-song set of mimicky slow jams likely pulled from the dumpster outside the studios of Lonely Island.  While the pre-programmed synth beats were appropriately syrupy and the lyrics were actually delightfully hokey, the delivery lacked the fake band’s straightfaced sincerity. Briefly turning from the audience in apparent overwhelming emotion, Dhani frequently smiled as if astonished the crowd had not yet begun throwing tomatoes.

Collecting the two opening acts on stage, Laura Veirs took to her catalog, adding Alex Guy on viola. The audience was enlisted as background singers during “To the Country”, and her inter-song banter engaged the crowd, fervent admirers of her most recent release, July Flame. Veirs’s best playing came when she picked up her banjo and purposefully cackled the Appalachian fiddle tune “Cluck Old Hen”. Her voice and technique easily lend to loose, raucous folk songs, a style she doesn’t aim for with the majority of work. Unfortunately, Veirs instead performed a set heavily weighted towards a mellow ease not well-suited to a bitter cold Midwestern February. The lowest moment of the set was a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again”. Veirs’s guitar playing slowed during the lead-in to each verse and it made me wonder why an accomplished artist would include a song she had not mastered in her setlist.

i’m bound to your bedside, your eulogy singer

Last July I was lucky enough to catch the last two minutes or so of The Antlers‘ Madfork 2.0 set. I was also unlucky in only catching the last two minutes of their set. Shortly thereafter, I listened to everything they had posted on their site, and just wasn’t as impressed as I had been a few days before. Yesterday, October 30th, 2009, Daytrotter posted their session with The Antlers, so I gave it a listen. Hooray for Daytrotter, because they managed to capture much of the magic I was witness to last summer. Being reassured that The Antlers were as amazing as I remembered, I looked up tour dates and discovered the band was in town that very night. The good people at Tell All Your Friends PR responded to my last-minute request, and I had the pleasure of attending The Antlers’ opening set at the Independent in San Francisco, CA.

Though the Daytrotter set is superb, nothing compares to seeing The Antlers play live. Peter Silberman (vocals/guitar), Darby Cicci (keys), and Michael Lerner (percussion) play off each other to create ever-expanding landscapes, filling every available space with sound. Silberman stands to the side, his vocals mixed down in the wash of sound, giving the impression of drowning or speaking from beyond. Lerner’s precision tows Silberman along, and Cicci attacks his instruments as though they need to be powered by his touch.

The songs in The Antlers’ set range from catchy and misleadingly upbeat (“Two”) to hopelessly beautiful (“Atrophy”), commonly employing the struggle of triumph and hope against a nagging sense of despair and defeat. What The Antlers syphon out of the room emotionally in the course of a set may never be replaced, but we must do our best to stanch the flow with tourniquets and transfusions.

(PARTIAL?) SET LIST: Bear, Sylvia, Atrophy, Two, Wake