Friday, May 30, 2008

Sea Wolf at the Mercury Lounge, 5/28/08

I like Sea Wolf. It’s true I think their EP, Get To The River Before It Run Too Low, is better than the more recent full length, Leaves In The River. But the latter has some great songs, namely “Middle Distance Runner” and “The Cold, The Dark & The Silence.” (I think my third favorite would be the bonus track “The Promise,” and I must admit liking a bonus track that much doesn't say a lot about an album.)

Anyway. I was looking forward to last night’s sold out show at the Mercury Lounge for a few reasons. It was my first show since moving to New York, my first show at the Mercury Lounge, and—having seen Sea Wolf a couple times—the band was like a piece of familiarity amid the unfamiliar.

Openers the Jealous Girlfriends had a few songs I liked, but it seemed like they’re not quite sure what band they are yet. Live, they don’t have a sound that pervades their music (unless you count trebly Fender guitars run through trebly Fender amps; one would be fine, but two is too many). Lead singer Holly Miranda does have a strong voice, though.

On to Sea Wolf.

Sea Wolf has a full-time cellist. Of course, many bands bring a cellist into the recording studio—and there are surely thousands of instances where a cello has added some great mood or texture to a song—but having a cellist as a full-time band member, specifically while touring, seems like an extravagance.

I think with a better guitarist and a better keyboardist (though Lisa Fendelander is awful cute), the cellist wouldn’t be missed during the live performance. And I have to believe the band members would prefer to split the cash five ways instead of six. I know I would.

Another facet of having six musicians onstage is that it's surely more difficult to get into a groove, to hit on all cylinders, to have a great show. It’s simply one additional factor.

This got me thinking. Bandleader Alex Brown Church and new drummer Joey Ficken are easily the best musicians in the group. Ficken (formerly of Portland band Swords) has great tempo and range and his energetic fills enliven the band’s mid-tempo catalog. But I think it would behoove them to take a good, hard look at the others. (It’s essentially Church's band, anyway.)

Maybe the Mercury Lounge has sub-par sound (it wouldn’t surprise me, it being an old, small room). Maybe Sea Wolf needs a new soundman. Whatever the issue, the band sounded a little off for a good portion of the show.

They played every song off Leaves In The River and two from the EP. They also unveiled “Song Of The Magpie,” which they wrote for Augusten Burroughs’s audio book, A Wolf At The Table. “Magpie” is a great song and was a highlight of the show.

The Mercury Lounge floorplan is not conducive to encores. To get to their dressing room, the band leaves the stage to the audience’s right and walks along the wall the length of the club to the back of the space. To return to the stage they have to walk through everyone again. It looks kinda silly.

Having finished the main set with rousing versions of the upbeat “Sea Monuments” (my personal fave) and “You’re A Wolf” they led off the encore with the slow and delicate “Leaves In The River.” This mood swing seemed to cause the remaining crowd to get sleepy.

Or maybe it was just me.

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