Last night, the ever-reliable Earl hosted a concert by Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado and Austin's Shearwater. I've decided that I probably won't post a "Best of" piece at the end of the year naming the best and worst concerts of 2010 (no one cares, and besides, how can one compare, say, Menomena, to, say, Laura Veirs?). But if I were to, last night's show would definitely be a contender.
Jurado didn't take the stage until 10:00 pm, but immediately justified the time that we had spent standing around and waiting. To give you some idea of just how awesome an evening this was, here's the video for Jurado's song Arkansas:
Dark stuff, but that's Jurado's stock in trade. I've been a fan of his ever since the release this year of Saint Bartlett, his latest album which features Arkansas and the equally awesome Cloudy Shoes, two songs, incidentally, that he played back-to-back last night. Although he's accompanied by a small band on Saint Bartlett, last night at the Earl, Jurado took the stage alone and unaccompanied. He used two microphones, one with an echo effect to capture some of the orchestration in his songs, such as in the choral bridge of Arkansas. Despite the spare arrangement, just a man and a guitar, he kept the audience spellbound with his songs.
I would have come out to see him play even if he were the only performer of the evening. But he was merely the opening act for Shearwater, an eclectic quintet of multi-instrumentalists. Their set opened on a tribal/primitive note, with drummer Thor using mallets to play some sort of handmade zither strapped around his neck.
Thor, it's been said, looks exactly like what you'd want a drummer named "Thor" to look like.
Bandleader Jonathan Meiburg sang mostly in the upper reaches of his vocal range in a Thom Yorke/Radiohead kind of way, and instrumentally alternated between keyboards and guitar, with other band members filling in the gaps as needed.
To give you an idea of what their ethereal music sounds like, here's a fan-produced video for their song Castaways:
Here she's bowing the vibraphone for an other-worldly effect (there were many such effects at various times last night):
The Darwin guy (I didn't catch his name, but he wore a Charles Darwin t-shirt) played guitar, bass, and keyboards (he's sitting at the Nord Electro 3 below as the band's other multi-instrumentalist plays trumpet).
But Meiburg was clearly the front man. He led Shearwater through songs that ranged from ethereal chamber pop to shoegaze to fast-paced, Talking-Heads-style new wave. Originally from Tennessee, Thor announced that Meiburg's parents were in attendance for last evening's show. For the first song of their encore, Meiburg came on stage alone and sang a powerful and moving song a cappella before the rest of the band came on stage and joined him.