Shearwater is one of those bands that I feel like I should love, since they’re right up my alley sonically, but I just … don’t. Maybe in part because my brain has always classified Shearwater as an Okkervil River side project (though Will Sheff has been long gone from his involvement with Shearwater, and Meiburg long gone from Okkervil; Shearwater is just a Jonathan Meiburg project now) and I’m an Okkervil River girl1 through and through. Maybe in part because I’m just a sonically illiterate jerk. I don’t know. I can tell you that they’re talented and The Golden Archipelago is a very good album, and Jonathon Meiburg is a great frontman, but subjectively, I don’t get it and it’s not that I don’t enjoy them — I just don’t and won’t ever love them as a studio band. They’ll never be a band where I think, hey, I haven’t listened to Shearwater in a while, I should do that.
I was hoping that their live show would change my mind, show me something revelatory and intense in their music, and … it almost entirely worked.
I enjoyed their set a lot. Meiburg’s charismatic in that awkward-graceful hipster way, and like I said, the new album is very good. And live, with drums and bass behind the weird delicately face-melting songs, they’re a force to be reckoned with. I don’t find much of their recorded stuff to be particularly dynamic, but holy cow, is it ever dynamic live. Sweeping and driving, gorgeously unpinned by keyboards and guitar and occasionally not one but two electric basses, and Meiburg’s voice — why doesn’t he use his voice like that in the studio?
So would I go see them again? Yes. Yes, I would. Meiburg and his band were tremendous live. Will I ever make it a priority to pick up their albums? Probably not. And I’m okay with that state of things.
Wye Oak. Because while I went to the show, yes, to see if I could figure Shearwater out for myself, mostly I went for Wye Oak. They blew me away opening for Blitzen Trapper2 back in the fall, and I was even more excited to see how their intense electro-pop played in a small venue like the 506 as opposed to a bigger venue like the Cradle — where it played incredibly well — in front of a crowd that was kind of apathetic and partially really invested in the World Series game going on on TV in the back room.
It played really, really well. Huge but not overwhelming. Perfect. With so many notes in what they do, you think they’d waste one or six occasionally, but they don’t; and we all know how I feel about noise for noise’s sake, but somehow when Jenny does it, I think it’s brilliant. That’s a testament to how good Wye Oak are at what they do.
It isn’t just the music, though, for me that drives their live performance — visually, as a photographer, I find them fascinating. Andy behind his keyboards and synthesizers and drum kit flailing away (he was described as a rocktopus later in the evening), Jenny and her wall of hair behind her guitar and a mic. I couldn’t tell you why, because crammed into a tiny space like the 506 stage, they shouldn’t be anything more than sonically compelling and a very good band. But trying to draw out the colorful, dramatic shots that I got in the Cradle from the 506’s space and light rig was the best kind of challenge. Trying to find the right way to pinpoint Jenny’s awkward energy on stage and the way that Andy can disappear behind his wall of loops and sounds, but still show up stunning in a photo.
I’m working, mostly in a frustrated manner which makes me wish I could just plug my brain into the internets via USB cable and upload its contents, on a post about why I shoot what (and how) I shoot. I am well aware that while I am capable of shooting like other rock photographers, most of the time I simply don’t, and snide comments about this fact, even if they aren’t meant nastily, make me recoil a little, and trust myself a little less. (Just because I don’t do it like you would do it doesn’t mean I do it wrong.) So I’m trying to explain myself, trying to explain how I adjust for different bands and different venues and different desired outputs. It’s difficult. Explaining yourself always is, especially when you’re feeling a little touchy about being asked to, for what it’s worth.
But I’m still working on it, and for now, I can just say: I love Wye Oak as much for what they give me, visually, to shoot, on stage, as much I love their live show sonically. And I’m grateful for that.
This photo is for you, Mama, if you read this far. LOOK, RAYS!
Highlights of the evening; the entire venue whooping and applauding in celebration of the birth of Glenn’s new son; talking about the Ravens with Jenny as Wye Oak loaded in; watching out-of-towners gawk at Mac like he was a god; running into my grad school friend Josiah, who I haven’t seen in a couple of years despite the fact that we both still live in the CH metro area.
A good night.
1: speaking of: has anyone heard the roky erikson/okkervil disc yet? is it good? should i pick it up? i don’t know much (read: anything beyond his name) about erikson, but i love will sheff’s stupid face, so i’m curious.
2: earlier this week i had “bands i haven’t listened to in a while who are putting out new albums in 2010” shift, and fuck me, but i forget how flat-out fantastic blitzen trapper’s furr is. i’m wicked excited for this year’s destroyer of the void, and hopefully another tour.