23 Jan, 2013

Sea Wolf at the Marquis Theatre

On Unexpected Friendship and Improbably Water Dwelling Creatures:

Any relatively “underground” show is inherently a breeding ground for judgment and pretentiousness. I try my absolute hardest not to subscribe to these ideals, but it probably doesn’t help when I have a DSLR strapped around my neck and spend the rest of the time furiously jotting notes down in a Moleskine. I probably look like King Douche out there. Regardless, it’s such a strange paradox really: shouldn’t crowds at these shows get along swimmingly? Presumably, everyone is there under the same pretense, which is to listen to good music. There’s obviously a social aspect at play too, with beers being the anchor. So I ask you this, why can’t we all just get along?

It’s a mystery lost in the sands of time, scholars maintain. However, this constant illusion of trying to maintain some semblance of “coolness” – one of the most subjective and fleeting concepts in modern society in my opinion, but one that is constantly present–makes meeting genuinely geeked-out fanboys (much like myself) all the more exciting. ANYWAY. Let’s get to the music now, shall we?

The Marquis Theater in Denver is a charming, small(ish) venue perfect for seeing bands with smaller, devoted followings. For those familiar with Larimer Lounge, the two are similar in many respects but Marquis seems a lot like Larimer’s older brother but with all the intimacy. I was impressed with the sound quality as well as the general atmosphere for all three sets last Wednesday the 23rd, with indie-folk vets Sea Wolf as the headliner. I also liked that they played live recordings of Radiohead’s older stuff as background tunes between and before sets (because I can always, always groove to Kid A).

Kicking off the night was glossy surf-pop trio South of France. Sweet name, but don’t lie to me. I know you guys are from L.A. Immediately I noticed vocalist and keyboardist Kelly Lueke had an astonishingly striking resemblance to Kirsten Dunst, and later on realized drummer Matt Jeffries reminded me of a sad Draco Malfoy who never made it to Hogwarts. I didn’t understand his frown though: cheer up buddy, you’re in a pretty cool band. That’s gotta be worth a decent amount of alt-Muggle babes.

South of France’s Jeff Cormac

South of France’s Jeff Cormac

South of France’s Kelly Lueke

South of France’s Kelly Lueke

Simplicity, to me, is something that can be universally appreciated in music. Sure, I love when bands get real weird and experimental, pushing the boundaries of time and key signatures, convoluted, complex vocal themes (or none at all), automated drones/blips and bloops, etc., yet there’s something very lasting about sunny vocals floating atop guitar melodies paired with quick, concise drumming. South of France nailed that timeless beach-party-grab-your-surfboard-and-Clubmasters vibe. Frontman Jeff Cormac anchored the sound with precise guitar and vocal melodies, looping chord progressions occasionally to insert a noodly solo, you know, the kind that unobtrusively plucks at your heartstrings over that sepia-toned summer memory you wouldn’t want to repress. There was a sharp, tight punchiness to SOF’s instrumentation which paired well (like a nice cheddar and a fine Bordeaux) with Lueke’s breathy vocals–from time to time they seemed washed out, but this slip only seemed appropriate. Ultimately SOF pushed out positive, bright vibes that recalled Real Estate and Beach Fossils–they were balanced, had an infectious energy, and Cormac’s mustache was quite pleasing to look at. If that’s not enough to persuade you to check out their music (2011 EP Kings and 2012 LP Another Boring Sunrise), then I give up. My job here is done.

Some displaced movie stars right here

Some displaced movie stars right here

Jammin’ (real smooth like)

Jammin’ (real smooth like)

Next up was duo The Donnies The Amys from Echo Park, CA. Simple enough, it’s a dude named Donnie (vocals, piano, guitar, etc.) and a chick named Amy (drums). Within moments of hurdling and crashing into their set, I was mesmerized. It’s always such a humbling feeling (file under: I feel like an oblivious dummy) to witness live music that is brimming over with passion and talent and genuine feeling played by a band I wasn’t aware existed. Deep piano riffs and seasoned vocal melodies echoed gloriously between the spaces and splashes of spectral drum patterns. It sounded like these two had been playing together for decades–really they’re just two experienced musicians who decided to quit their previous projects and start one of their own (Amy Wood is also the drummer for Fiona Apple).

The Donnie

The Donnie

The Amy

The Amy

Kazooin' real hard

Kazooin’ real hard

With a computer tracking bass lines and additional electronic accompaniment, TDTA had a remarkable amount of depth to their sound despite only having two live members on stage. It was also cool when Donnie Stemp addressed some dude who for no reason had beef with a girl in the front row. Neither Donnie or Amy broke tempo mid-song, when he stopped singing and said something along the lines of, “Stop it man. Don’t fight. Just don’t. Stop.” (I don’t have a direct quote but I remember it was curt and in an annoyed tone. Mad respect.) Their set flew by in a whirlwind of synth arpeggios, methodical drumbeats, and soaring vocal melodies. I highly recommend you check out and purchase their self-titled album. You shan’t be disappointed.

Sea Wolf (taken from Jack London’s The Sea Wolf) emerged from the brain of Alex Church after he found himself with a catalogue of material that didn’t fit with his current band’s sound circa 1998–Irving, an L.A. based psychedelic pop outfit. He began playing this material in gigs with a smattering of friends throughout L.A. starting in 2003. Then after recording a demo and signing to DangerBird Records (Silversun Pickups, Fitz and the Tantrums, Minus the Bear, etc.), he released 2007’s EP Get to the River Before It Runs Too Low. Since then a concrete band (and subsequent following) have solidified around Church’s chamber folk tunes. From what I can collect, he’s really mastered the art of making uplifting sad jams.

Alex Church

Alex Church

Sea Wolf’s Lisa Fendelander

Sea Wolf’s Lisa Fendelander

Russell Brand is in a band! Kidding. Sea Wolf’s Eliot Lorango.

Russell Brand is in a band! Kidding. Sea Wolf’s Eliot Lorango.

Sea Wolf's Scott Leahy

Sea Wolf’s Scott Leahy

Church was accompanied by keyboardist Lisa Fendelander, guitarist Scott Leahy, drummer Joey Ficken, and bassist Eliot Lorango (who totally looks like Russell Brand). They hurtled into their set with Get to the River’s lead-in track “You’re a Wolf,” which accurately preempted their entire set: rich strings like dusty roads, vocals evocative of heartbreak and times gone by too quickly, steady drums pitter-patting (and occasionally punching) along, shimmering guitar accents and bass grooves tying it all together below. The best part about a Sea Wolf is the texture of its fur, you know. A few stand out tracks that shined brightest throughout this menagerie of depressing yet feel-good hour or so of music were “Middle Distance Runner” from Leaves in the River. I liked this one because the intro reminded me of Nico’s cover of “These Days,” and then it strayed off by not being ruined with obnoxious vocals. Fingerpicked guitar patterns ambling along, shuffling softly but deliberately through a quiet field, Church crooning about how he’ll never be able to make it all the way: “So won’t you run to me tonight?/Tonight we could pretend that we’re just lovers/But I’ll only ever be a middle distance runner.”
The band’s dynamic balance was flawless on their rendition of Old World Romance single “Old Friend,” and in nearly every song they performed came a moment where you could easily slip out of the audience and into the world that was written with that ever-present sense of divine despondency. To me, that’s really what makes music so special when it’s done right: it is a vehicle, and you are a passenger. Let it take you where it is meant to.Among that crowd of people twisting and turning, being lost and found, I made a friend that night. We talked about how big of nerds we were about music, we talked about how sometimes audiences could be annoying or unappreciative. Mainly it was just nice to know that there are people like me even at shows where apparently the main objective is to look like you don’t give a shit. Because, even if that’s what makes you the bee’s knees, I will admit openly: I am not cool. I do give a shit. When Church sang the last line of “Miracle Cure” in the midst of Wolf’s set, I could not help but smile at how fitting it all was: “If I, if I can surround you in beautiful sounds I will, I will/Oh my love, pure and true, lift me up a miracle cure.” I definitely wasn’t sick, but, yeah. I did feel cured.
Photos and review by Sig Steiger. 

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