Shearwater set sail at the 400 Bar
Austin, Texas five-piece (and then some) Shearwater took all of us lucky enough to be in attendance last night at the 400 Bar on a journey into the heart of music and the uplifting, invigorating power of song. It was a gorgeous, though sparsely attended, 75-minute show that leaned heavily on Shearwater's glorious new album The Golden Archipelago, which exhibited not only the considerable talents of frontman Jonathan Meiburg, but also his gifted band, which was augmented throughout the night by members of opening acts Hospital Ships and Wye Oak. Meiburg's voice soared in the small room, elevating his songs to the lofty heights they were born into, while a vast array of musicians dexterously switched instruments, coloring the subtle but no less stunning arrangements with whatever mood the track called for, as the songs truly took flight.
The band opened with a stellar four-song run that was the best start to a show I've seen all year, with "Black Eyes," "Landscape At Speed," "Castaways" and "Meridian" all setting a dazzling pace that remarkably the band managed to keep up during their consistently captivating 16-song set. All but two tracks from The Golden Archipelago were performed on the night, with the band also sprinkling in material from their last two albums, Rook and Palo Santo, including wonderful versions of "Rooks," "Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five," "Century Eyes" and the epic "Home Life" that closed out the set.
The exquisite "Hidden Lakes" was another clear standout, and featured drummer Thor Harris and bassist Kimberly Burke (who used to live in Minneapolis) duetting on the glockenspiel. Shearwater's songs truly take the listener on an odyssey; one where you might not know where you're bound to end up, but you trust enough in Meiburg to allow him and his angelic falsetto to lead you there. His songs are all about the voyage and discovery; finding something, somewhere, that you previously didn't know existed, and those fine natural gifts were imbued within all of the sublime songs played last night.
Jonathan joked about how ten years ago, when he was on his first U.S. tour, he played the 400 Bar, and after he thanked the crowd, owner Tom Sullivan got on the PA and said, "Thank You," right back at the band, and that support meant a lot to him. It was evident right from the start that there was an easy comfort level that had been reached in the room, with members of the opening acts freely joining the band on stage, before casually heading back to the merch stand.
The second of the two openers, Baltimore's Wye Oak, delivered a blistering set which was heavy on straight-ahead, Neil Young-ish rock 'n roll, highlighted by the dulcet vocals of frontwoman Jenn Wasner, who simply shreds on guitar. So much so, she broke a string right before the bands last song, a lovely cover of the Kinks "Strangers" that featured Meiburg joining the band on guitar. That obvious camaraderie between the bands and the audience made for a truly special night, allowing everyone to feel completely at ease while letting the wondrous strains of the music carry all of us away from the din of our days for at least a couple of blissful hours.
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