After what seemed like a hearty chunk of time between the two opening acts and headliner Sea Wolf, the band took the stage last night at Crescent Ballroom. Enforcing the toothy and animal side of their moniker, they kicked it off with "You're A Wolf" from their first EP and later on their first full length, Leaves in the River, both released in 2007. They also jumped right in with a really exuberant roar from some serious fans, many of whom arrived a couple hours ahead of time to get a good spot in line. Too young to drink and arriving that early? Yeah, that's devotion.
Led by founder and frontman Alex Brown Church, who does most of Sea Wolf's composition work on his own, it's easy to see the effort taken to remove the folk edges more prominent on the band's recordings and beef them up a bit for a more rock oriented live show. The band plays with a pretty intimate knowledge of each other's styles, managing to keep it forceful and solid without losing the pretty side of Sea Wolf - a side which manages to find its way into every track. Beauty seems to be Church's rubber band of restraint. As the songs maintain a consistent dynamic of transitioning from soft to bigger and more full, an explosion doesn't come. Church's orchestration pulls you back into a leveled arena.
From there, they went into a couple of tracks, "In Nothing" and "Priscilla" from their latest, Old World Romance. Both of these tunes are good examples of Sea Wolf's love of construction. They are haunting songs that take their time. As the overall feel of Old World Romance is one that is really reflective and personal, it moves in a way that invites you on the journey rather than making you feel like an outsider. Church's nature is the same. He took a little time to reminisce about his previous appearances in Phoenix and profusely thank everyone for coming to shows both then and now. He also dropped in a comment on the heat because even though it's blazingly obvious there's maybe some kind of comfort in recognizing the misery.
"White Water, White Bloom," from the album of the same name - the band's second LP - was a real highlight. A bit reminiscent of a sea shanty, the band really jelled, providing some jangles and twirls in the music, along with a stomp-y element, putting the sea to the wolf. In the band banter, the chemistry seemed jovial and real and it resonated through the crowd during this one, putting a surge in the already excited audience.
The band kept longtime fans happy by playing an array of songs from all of their earlier releases and gave everyone a good taste of what Old World Romance is all about. Another good one was" Black Dirt" from Leaves in the River - a subtle pop song, with a low level drive, that explores death or maybe just the death of something. The band finished up with another new one, "Kasper" before saying goodbyes and some more thank-you's.
Though it wasn't needed, a little "Sea Wolf" chant happened as Alex came back to the stage, solo, to perform "Leaves in the River." A beautifully spooky, autumnal tune, it gave the crowd a chance to experience a bit more of an edge-y Church, which was refreshing. Seeing a little push back on that restraint is something that would be great to see from him more often. And with such a solid band behind him, a little loosening on the chains of passion could make for a pretty powerful dimension. The band came back on stage and delivered rousing, soulful versions of "Old Friend" and "Wicked Blood."
The first opening band was Savior Adore. Brooklyn kids full of smiles and dressed in eye-punching white garb channeled some 1980s alterna-dance-pop a la a fusion of OMD, Thompson Twins, and a little Cocteau Twins vocal sweetness that seemed to inspire dance moves that ranged from good to tragic.
Up next was Eleanor Friedberger. Longtime half of the duo Fiery Furnaces with her brother Matthew, Eleanor has been putting out solo efforts for the last couple of years. Backed by a band that seems to provide her as much with on stage comfort as much as solid skills, Eleanor is living proof that there's always real beauty in how fucking awkward and ridiculous life is a lot of the time.
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She plows through her songs with conviction, often more of a poet than a singer, her delivery more reminiscent of beat poets and Patti Smith. Comparisons not necessary, though, she makes it her own.
Set List You're A Wolf In Nothing Priscilla White Water, White Bloom ? Dear Fellow Traveler Whirlpool Middle Distance Runner Miracle Cure Dew in the Grass Black Dirt Kasper END Encore: Leaves in the River Old Friend Wicked Blood
Last Night: Sea Wolf at Crescent Ballroom. Personal Bias: I like the sea and I love wolves. The Crowd: Chatty-ass young folk. Overheard in the crowd: Fucking everything. No one would shut the hell up all night. Random Notebook Dump: Sometimes Alex Brown Church reminds me of a Beck and Kiefer Sutherland hybrid.