Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Tonight, on this one-in-four Leap Year Day, I'm seeing Austin's Shearwater, who played one of my favorite concerts of 2010, return to the redoubtable Earl. The band is touring in support of their new album, Animal Joy.

In other news, Portland's Blind Pilot are playing tonight at Athens' infamous 40 Watt Club.  I almost bought tickets to the Blind Pilot show before I remembered that I had already bought tickets to Shearwater, but since I've seen Blind Pilot twice since last September and I haven't seen Shearwater since November 2010, it wasn't much of a disappointment.

Shearwater offers intriguing oddity and familiarity. They are a bold, majestic band with big conceptual ambitions, and elements of folk, baroque pop, indie, and post-rock coalesce into a music that doesn’t correspond closely with any of those styles. Call it "naturalistic chamber drama" thanks to the dynamic, orchestral mien and recurring nature themes.

Prior to Animal Joy, Shearwater released the thematically linked Island Arc trilogy of concept albums, Palo Santo, Rook, and The Golden Archipelago. But with those works now completed, the band has moved over to Seattle's Sub Pop records and were free to record the somewhat less ambitious and more straightforward Animal Joy, much as The Decemberists were able to do last year with The King Is Dead.  But Shearwater is still led by the intellectually curious singer Jonathan Meiburg, and themes of humanity's complex interactions with biology and nature haven't given way to mundane ruminations on love gone wrong.

Their far-reaching songs about man's relationship with nature boom and swoop with epic grace and grandeur.  Even at its most tender and delicate, Animal Joy pairs Meiburg's brainy proclamations with brawny, searching arrangements.  The common thread binding everything Shearwater does is a love of big thinking and a clear understanding that brains and beauty need never be mutually exclusive.

Back in 2010, Shearwater were touring with Damian Jurado, whom I also caught at MFNW (Mr. Jurado returns to The Earl on May 23).  Earlier this month, Shearwater was touring with Sharon Van Etten, another favorite of 2010 and a standout performer at 2011's Bumbershoot (rumor has it that she was in the audience at Mr. Jurado's MFNW set), and I was looking forward to seeing Shearwater and Ms. Van Etten perform together.

Unfortunately, the joint Shearwater/Van Etten tour has apparently ended and I will have to wait until April 25 to see Van Etten's return to The Earl.  The reward for waiting is that Van Etten will have Flock of Dimes, the solo project of Rocktober favorite Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner, open for her.  So tonight, I see Shearwater perform alone (well, not actually alone - Lily and the Tigers, who opened for Viva Voce during an early Rocktober 2011 show, are opening for Shearwater this evening).

But here's the ironic part: in separate news, Rocktober sweetheart St. Vincent announced she will be touring the U.S. again, this time with none other than Shearwater opening.  They're playing at the Variety Playhouse, and I've already got tickets to the show through a pre-announcement special from St. Vincent's website.

So I get to see Ms. Van Etten again, I get to see Jenn Wasner again, I get to see Damian Jurado again, I get to see St. Vincent again, and I get to see Shearwater, twice.  I bet you wish you were me (you should).

Here are a couple of stand-alone songs from Animal Joy in case you don't have the time to sit through an entire album stream:

"Stormy songs like Breaking the Yearlings find Shearwater booming portentously over dire warnings of ominous weather and destructive tides" (NPR, from whom I clipped some of the verbiage above).

1 comment:

Deepak Gopy said...

really informative