a soft kiss is a hard goodbye

Middle Brother is an amalgam of Americana – the singers of Dawes, Deer Tick, and the Delta Spirit have come together to make some music and take their show on the road. The concept for the Middle Brother tour – featuring Deer Tick and Dawes – is a loosely structured family affair. The Brothers and various guests drifted in and out, lending a hand or a voice to each others’ sets. Matt Vasquez (The Delta Spirit) sang a few songs with John J. McCauley III’s Deer Tick; Taylor Goldsmith & Dawes hosted Nashville’s Jonny Corndawg for a few tunes; a small army invaded the stage for Middle Brother’s set.

The band’s self-titled album is a good primer for their live show. Their best songs on the album are their best songs live, with the live renditions trumping their recorded counterparts in every case but one. The only letdown of the evening came with the best track off Middle Brother, “Someday”. The recorded take captures Vasquez at his finest, his vocals raw and electrified. Placed early in the set, Vasquez hadn’t yet hit his stride and didn’t leave it all on the floor like the song so desperately needs him to.

“Someday” may have left the crowd wanting, but they didn’t have to wait for long. Goldsmith, McCauley, and Vasquez’s voices blend incredibly well, and their harmonies were impeccable. “Blood and Guts” plays wonderfully live, and “Million Dollar Bill” hits all its sadness at its fullest to become one of the best songs of the set.  After closing out their set with the song “Middle Brother” with Jonny Corndawg, the band and possibly every person associated with the tour came back for the encore, giving things an old-school blues jam feel. The gang chose to cover Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me“, and it was the surprise highlight of the evening. They did it so successfully that they should consider pulling double-duty sets; one with original material and one as a Sam Cooke cover band.

Click either photo to see more pictures from Middle Brother’s set.
Click here for photos of Deer Tick & Dawes.

under the covers

A radio station in my area is calling for listeners’ favorite cover songs for a theme over Valentine’s Day weekend – Under the Covers. Here’s what I’d play:

Between the Buried and Me – Colorblind (Counting Crows)
Ted Leo – Since U Been Gone/Maps (Kelly Clarkson/Yeah Yeah Yeahs)
Colin Meloy – Cupid (Sam Cooke)
Death Cab for Cutie – This Charming Man (The Smiths)
Magnetic Fields – The Book of Love (Peter Gabriel)
Peter Gabriel – Flume (Bon Iver)
She & Him  – You Really Got a Hold On Me (The Miracles)

Ready to let me be a guest DJ, Triple M?

octopo ho!

Colin MeloyResiding on an isthmus, the people of Madison, WI can’t help but love a good sea chantey. Lucky for them, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists brought his hyper-literate musical tales to the Barrymore Theatre on April 23, 2008.

The stage was of a simple set-up: a few guitars, a couple of microphones, and a table complete with a bottle of red wine and a framed picture of a sock puppet. Meloy took the stage and filled the remaining space with his signature vocals and oodles of charm.

Some may have had doubts about Meloy’s ability to carry The Decemberists’ dense material as a solo act, but the bespectacled troubadour stripped them down and made them his own without losing the integrity of the original arrangements. This occasionally required the employment of the audience as backup singers and instrument impersonators, but the crowd was more than happy to oblige.

In addition to several crowd favorites, the set also included a few surprises. One was a surprisingly moving rendition of soul legend Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” with opener Laura Gibson (a recording of the song is available on the tour-only EP Colin Meloy Sings Sam Cooke). The other was a three-part supersong from The Decemberists’ forthcoming album, set for recording later this year. The song has been referred to as “Hazards of Love” and can be heard here.

On the whole, the night was a cozy sing-along, replete with intimate interaction between Meloy and his followers. Laughs were had, requests were taken, and the crowd was treated to the ever-so-rare feeling in live music that they were sharing a night with a roomful of friends rather than an anonymous gathering of individuals dominated by the untouchables on stage.

PARTIAL SET LIST: Hazards of Love, Cupid, The Sporting Life, Red Right Ankle, The Engine Driver, The Perfect Crime #2