Actual Wolf at the Turf Club 11/27/12
Photo by Robyn Schindeldecker
Actual Wolf's November Residency
Turf Club, St. Paul
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Last night was just another Tuesday night at St. Paul's Turf Club: a room spotted sparsely with casual listeners for the closing night of Actual Wolf's residency, dividing their attention between the taps and the stage. Eric Pollard -- the man behind the Actual Wolf moniker -- has had a steady four-week run, offering well-curated sets with talented guest musicians that, thankfully, not very many people seem to know about.
For whatever reason, Pollard soars delightfully below the radar. It's not for lack of enigma: Pollard, who has played in Low and Retribution Gospel Choir, has a Cash-like stage presence, all mystery and distance in his uniform black blazer and rose-tinted glasses. As he took the stage for his opening solo set, he greeted the crowd nonchalantly, with candid gratitude for the handful of showgoers offering their support.
This, the solo Actual Wolf, the way Pollard favors opening shows, is such a treat. Acoustic and unpretentious, Pollard performed tracks off his solo EP USA and channeled early Dylan. The art of folk songwriting, at this point in the music world, has become so convoluted that almost anything will pass (the Lumineers' "Ho Hey," while an enjoyable, rollicking tune, is no "Maggie's Farm"), but Pollard is an artist who recalls the early expression and masters it. "Minneapolis" is a particularly strong song, filled with lyrical twists and truths as Pollard slyly addressed the "scene": "Your white wine lips and your cocktail tongue/Clenched up fists and your near-sighted eyes/Your tattooed skin and your judging lies/I got some bad news/You ain't no judge."
For the final night of Actual Wolf's November residency, Pollard had a lot to cram in. Following four brief solo songs, local indie rockers the Farewell Circuit played a rousing set before the Actual Wolf band set. Pollard welcomed band mate Jake Hanson up for a few songs by Hanson's experimental-instrumental band, Jake Hanson and the Chiefs, and Martin Devaney and Frankie Lee joined Pollard and his full band (Jake Hanson, Jeremy Hanson, and Steve Garrington) for a few covers -- a charming take on Lee Brice's "A Woman Like You" and a truly enchanting version of Hank Williams' "Lost Highway."
When Actual Wolf started in on the band set, that was something else entirely. Pollard spoke quietly and comes off as a little wry -- like any good songwriter, a little too observant for his own good -- but the full band arrangements take Pollard to a new level as an artist.
Pollard's voice settles a little more on the Neil Young spectrum of things, and it sank in deep and expansive against the desert-and-night-sky arrangements. There isn't a single misstep or bad song or foul note on the band EP, Lightning and the Wolf, and those songs only grow taller in a live setting. There was no song that demonstrates this better, perhaps, than "Bread," a tune filled with an honesty that makes it instantly timeless. As he humbly closed out the evening with the wry "Anywhere, USA," it was clear to all remaining: Actual Wolf is a rare one, a true class act, and the rooms won't be sparse forever.
Critic's Bias: I won't pretend that Actual Wolf isn't my kind of thing, because it totally is.
Random Notebook Dump: You know what's so refreshing about going to a show? When you look around and you notice that the majority of the people there are also artists, or in the industry. That kind of turnout resonates. Not a single person was on a cell phone during the show.
Kerosene & Spark
Lightning & the Wolf
Let It Go
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