Thursday, August 21, 2008

Great Lake Swimmers/Laura Gibson; August 21, 2008; High Noon Saloon

I still don’t know how he does it. The last time Tony Dekker and band were in town they played to a remarkably hushed crowd at Café Montmartre, a venue known for its chatty patrons. Somehow even in a space four times the size, they entranced a good-sized crowd into remaining mostly silent for their hauntingly gorgeous set. In fact, the crowd must have been prepared to keep quiet because they maintained nothing above a quiet muttering during Laura Gibson’s spare opening set. Under other circumstances I might have been more patient with her “Little House on the Prairie” music, especially given the skill of the multi-instrumentalist who played with her, but tonight I just wanted her to be done so that we could get on with the headliner. And no, I won’t tell you which High Noon employee so accurately named her style.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Dekker is how much voice comes out of just the side of his mouth, as if he were whispering an aside to the audience instead of conjuring vivid images of modern dancers, angels and imaginary bars. His voice is reminiscent of Neil Young circa “Helpless,” but stops short of the full-out drama of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, creating something delicate and unique. Perhaps the last person I would have expected him to cover is the brilliant, gravelly-voiced Tom Waits, but that’s exactly what he did. His unaccompanied cover of “Innocent When You Dream” reinterpreted the classic in the best possible way, its naïve subject perfect for so pure a voice. For the several songs he played without the band, including a lovely version of “Imaginary Bars” from Bodies and Minds in the encore, he switched from the full-sized acoustic he had been playing to a little guitar, which my brother tells me is more properly called a parlor guitar.

The band has played Madison several times before, moving up the club scale from opening sets at Montmartre to headlining there and now to the High Noon, always my favorite place to see a show. They couldn’t have been happier to be here. The normally reserved Torontonians couldn’t have been more genuine when claiming that it was an honor to play in Madison again. Their quiet songs aren’t for everyone, but if it were up to me they would play here once a month. I can’t ever seem to get enough of their heart-stoppingly lovely songs live.

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