Entering the club, the most noticeable difference from my last visit was that the tables and chairs had been removed. This show was standing room only. While that meant more chatter from the crowd, it also meant I was able to secure a great spot in the center of the room. An album by the Decemberists played over the PA, priming us (or perhaps ruining us) for opener Hey Marseilles. The Seattle seven-piece share much musically with their Portlandian neighbors, with their folky tales of the sea backed by accordion and bowed instruments. Lead singer Matt Bishop sounds more like Ben Gibbard than he does Colin Meloy, but unfortunately his lyrical prowess is not up to par with either. They played mostly new songs from an album to be released in February, "Heartbeats," with its chugging drums being the standout. Closing with a duo of "Rio" and "From a Terrace" from their debut album, they had the crowd cheering, but I wasn't sold. While all talented musicians, I wish they'd do more to distinguish themselves from their forebears of the Northwest. If you're still intrigued, however, here's a free fall sampler of theirs to download, which includes the single "Elegy."
Jim White opened with the melodica-spiced "If Jesus Drove a Motor Home," backed by guitar, bass, and a drum machine supplying the beat. "Just imagine if your dad was up here on stage, slightly stoned, singing songs for you," White suggested to the young crowd. At 55, White is no spring chicken, though you'd never know he was that old by appearance. Aside from a touch of grey at his temples, he is a very Hollywood-looking 55. His years have imbued his alt-country songs with a level of depth not always found in the recently fashionable genre. He shared stories with the audience about his time as a NY cabbie ("For every year you drive a cab here, that's seven human years.") and his thoughts on the 6% that will determine the upcoming election ("You know why they don't vote? 'Cause they're drunk. So on Election Day, take a drunk off the street, make him vote for Obama, and give him a six-pack."). In an age where it seems like everyone has a harmonica holder hanging from his neck, White is the real deal, casually slipping a blues harp from his chest pocket during "Jailbird." Though it was disappointing to witness a crowd that had remained silent for the derivative Hey Marseilles talking during White's songs, the audience was taken by the hilarious "Newspaper," the story of an inebriate attempting to buy a newspaper to get his life together only to find out that they are sold out, and settles for a beer. I even noticed They Might Be Giants' bassist Danny Weinkauf cracking up in the crowd.
Sea Wolf took the stage a little before 9pm, starting things off with "Miracle Cure" from their recently released Old World Romance. Alex Brown Church played all the instruments on the album, from the sparklingly clean guitars to synthesized drums, but there are not as many standout songs as on his previous effort. The band I saw last night wasn't the band I saw in 2009 either. Even though I was half-asleep, I remember really enjoying the orchestral feel brought by the cello, now having to settle for the keyboards of Lisa Fendelander. It wasn't a bad show; just not what I wanted. And I'm glad I chose this night to as opposed to Thursday's at the Bowery Electric. Church remarked, "Last night was a weird show. This is much better. CMJ's always kind of a clusterfuck, you know?" Some crackly farting sounds from the speakers marred most of "Middle Distance Runner," when Church wasn't forgetting the words. He couldn't remember the lines at the start of "I Made a Resolution" either, relying on the audience for support. The highlight of the night for me was the one-two punch of "Turn the Dirt Over" going directly into the Marxophone intro of "Wicked Blood." The encore came down to an audience vote, and while "Black Leaf Falls" was the clear victor, ABC vetoed and chose "Saint Catherine St." "If you wanna hear 'Black Leaf Falls,' come see us in the spring," he offered. If you bring the cello, I'm there.
HEY MARSEILLES – 10.19.12 – LE POISSON ROUGE (30 minutes)
Hold Your Head / Elegy / Summer Skies, Winter Cold* / Dead of Night / Heartbeats / Rio / From a Terrace
JIM WHITE – 10.19.12 – LE POISSON ROUGE (38 minutes)
If Jesus Drove a Motor Home / State of Grace / Keep It Meaningful You All / Chase the Dark Away / Jailbird / Sunday’s Refrain / Newspaper
SEA WOLF – 10.19.12 – LE POISSON ROUGE (1 hour, 3 minutes)
Miracle Cure / Winter Windows / The Traitor / Old Friend / Dew in the Grass / Priscilla / Middle Distance Runner / I Made a Resolution / Turn the Dirt Over > Wicked Blood / Kasper / Black Dirt / You’re a Wolf
Saint Catherine St.