January 14, 2011
Two bands from Eau Claire, Wisconsin played what felt more like a local show at the Varsity Theater on Friday night, as both S. Carey and the Daredevil Christopher Wright were met with warm, receptive crowds that helped embolden both groups to take chances with their intricate, deeply affecting songs. Both bands seemed comfortable and relaxed on a stage still slightly decorated for Christmas, which allowed them (and the crowd) to lose themselves completely in songs both new and old, as well as a few choice covers that rounded out the night exquisitely.
This was a rare show for the Daredevil Christopher Wright, who are currently in the midst of recording a follow up to 2009's stirring In Deference To A Broken Back. And they took the occasion to debut plenty of new material alongside their older gems during their generous 50-minute set. After gently getting their set going with their eponymous track from Back, the three-piece couldn't wait to give us all a prodigious glimpse as to what their new album is going to sound like.
The new numbers are mostly harmony driven songs, driven by Jesse Edgington's inventive percussion, and the vocals of both Jon and Jason Sunde, who traded off lead throughout the set. And, after classics like "The East Coast" and "Acceptable Loss" (which featured a lengthy electric guitar intro from Jon) went over really well, the band grew more boldly experimental with their sound and the performance seemed to provide a fun, cathartic release for them. And, based on the lush, indelible nature of their new songs, it hopefully won't be too long until we hear from these guys again.
Sean Carey brought a five-piece backing band with him on this evening, which gave his already rich, elegant songs a full, vivid sound. Led by Aaron Hodenstrom on clarinet (and other woodwinds), Nick Ball on guitar, and fellow Bon Iver member Mike Noyce, who also bounced around on a few different instruments throughout the set, these songs simply swelled in the live setting, enveloping all of us who ardently gave ourselves up to the stirring strains Carey and his crew were crafting. The set basically followed the order of Carey's wonderful debut, All We Grow, with Carey gently plucking the delicate melody of "Move" on acoustic guitar, before switching to keyboard for a dynamically propulsive, glorious rendition of "We Fell" that simply floored me with its beauty.
After a gorgeous version of "In The Dirt," Carey mentioned that he always gets a little nervous playing after Daredevil Christopher Wright because they're so tight. But it was obvious he was amongst friends on this evening, which allowed him and the rest of his band to fully lose themselves in the majesty of "Mothers," another clear standout of the 55-minute set, which flowed seemlessly into the tense, percussion-driven instrumental "Action," featuring Carey leading the way on drums.
For songs that have such a slight, diaphanous sound on record, these tracks clearly flourish live, thanks to the stellar and talented musicians Carey assembled, as well as the underlying strength of the source material. The songs all simmer a bit tentatively before erupting in a grand spiral of sound, with all of the instruments blending superbly amid Carey's subtle orchestration.
Having only one album to his credit, Carey turned to a couple of well-chosen covers to fill out the remainder of their set, delivering a gorgeous take on David Bazan's "Lost My Shape" shortly before the one-song encore, which was a spirited and surprising rendition of the Notwist's "Consequence" which closed out the night strongly. I don't know what exactly is in the water in Eau Claire, Wisconsin that continues to produce such riveting, inventive music, but I am quite happy that Twin Cities audiences have taken to these talented artists so affectionately, because it means they will always keep coming back.
Critic's Bias: It had been a while since I saw either of these bands perform, and both groups have confidently gotten better and bolder in that time.
The Crowd: A good-sized audience, especially on a snowy evening, filled with fans, family and friends of the band.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I love that guy's beard" (referring to Jesse Edgington).
Random Notebook Dump: I was hoping for a Justin Vernon sighting, or better yet him sitting in with either band, but I don't think he turned up, unfortunately.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Stacy Schwartz.
S. Carey's Setlist:
-In The Dirt
-All We Grow
-Lost My Shape (David Bazan)
-Consequence (The Notwist)(Encore)