all words: Andy Hess
live photos: Rachel Eisley
I just glanced at my notes for this show and they were scarce. Apparently I was so into this show that I failed to write down, well, anything. Wye Oak and Shearwater draw the viewer in with two different distinct qualities. Baltimore’s Wye Oak is lead by Jenn Wasner’s understated guitar playing (seriously, the girl can shred) and Andy Stack’s cathartic drumming and keyboard playing. Austin’s Shearwater is just hard to ignore once singer Jonathan Meiburg opens his mouth.
When I walked into the Rock and Roll Hotel, Wye Oak were a few songs into their set and was super bummed to have missed the very quality Hospital Ships. After one song filled with thickly layered guitar and tribal drums I immediately regretted forgetting my earplugs. For two people Wye Oak make a lot of noise. While her guitar work is phenomenal Jenn Wasner’s voice commands your attention — the songs are sound cathartic but the lyrics are vague towards any particular source of pain. Even the quiet numbers were evocatively beautiful as well. The set list tended to lend itself toward their most recent material — 2008’s The Knot and their March release My Neighbor/My Creator — as well as some material from their next record (Spoiler alert: it sounded awesome!).
With D.C. being especially close to Baltimore, Wye Oak had a lot of friends in the audience. But as I left during the end of the show people who came with friends remarked on how good both bands were and that they had never listened to them before. Like many others, I was one of the people who left with a new favorite band.
As I mentioned before it’s hard to ignore Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg. He’s tall and lanky, but his voice is full-throated and controlling. The first time I ever heard his voice was during a very intimate performance when he opened for Bill Callahan in 2007. I had no idea who he was at the time, but I was completely floored by his voice and performance. That concert is still in one of my top five performances I’ve seen ever. Friday night at the Rock and Roll Hotel was equally solid and even more interesting with a full band.
Shearwater is a band whose albums are dense and lush, but one would think that they might have a hard time pulling it off in a live setting. That is not the case. And the band’s charm really shows in their depth. When the band switches instruments, it’s as if they were naturally better at the one they are playing than the last. Drummer Thor Harris is brilliant on drums, clarinet, glockenspiel among various other instruments. Bassist Kimberly Burke provides a nice smile and steady backbone to the rest of the sound.
Shearwater live is like a great album that takes repeated listens to fully understand. Like that great album it becomes revealing with each listen. Filled with additional details and nuance, Shearwater makes each listen special and one that you should not miss.