Friday, August 26, 2011

Great Lake Swimmers/Snowblink/The Lumineers; August 26, 2011; SPACE, Evanston IL

The Great Lake Swimmers were scheduled to play the Orton Park festival the next day, but I felt like I needed to see them in a quiet listening room instead of outside with a bunch of drunk Madisonians, especially since I hadn’t seen them in pin-drop conditions for quite some time. So I engaged in my favorite new hobby, riding the Megabus for $2.50 round trip to Chicago, and headed down there Friday afternoon. SPACE is a very nice room, but this is the first time I had been there for a sold out show (good for them by the way), and I was lucky my bus arrived 45 minutes early or I would have been standing in the back of the room instead of in a well-located seat.

First band the Lumineers was a joy to watch. High energy acoustic music with a distinct old-time flair, it was easy to get caught up in their infectious songs. The winning combination of male-female vocals along with mandolin, cello, and keyboards (all handled by the baby-doll adorable Neyla Pekarek) in addition to the standard guitar-bass-drums configuration made them a crowd favorite. They sealed the deal by playing their last two songs from the back of the room, proving that they didn’t any of the modern conveniences of electricity. I should have bought a CD, and I’m still not sure why I didn’t. I was pretty sure I wanted nothing to do with second band Snowblink from the second they started setting up. I don’t mean to be catty, but sometimes you can judge a band by what they wear, and her dress was one of the ugliest I have ever seen. I also questioned the deer horns glued to her guitar, turns out that was the coolest thing about the duo. Everything I hate about girl singers was on display here, I couldn’t wait for them to be done.

Of course it was worth the wait. The Great Lake Swimmers continue to astound me. Their music is breathtakingly beautiful, and while they have picked up the pace on the newer songs, I’m always amazed that something that mellow can be so good. It may be the most difficult trick in the book, and they have aced it. It’s been two years since the terrific Lost Channels came out, so I wasn’t quite sure why they were touring at this point when a new record had to be coming soon. Turns out that was exactly why, they’d been in the studio and they wanted to road test some of these songs before they released it. The new stuff was consistently great, picking up where Channels left off, keeping that record’s more upbeat style while showcasing lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Tony Dekker’s heart breaking/melting voice.

In fact my only complaint about the show was that the only voice I want to hear is Dekker’s but too often violinist Erin Aurich‘s voice overwhelmed his. I like Aurich , she’s adorable and a terrific fiddle player, and she has a great voice (though questionable fashion sense), I just don’t want to hear her. I would almost rather just see Dekker solo, so enchanted am I by him. Wait, I take that back, make that Dekker and guitar and banjo player Erik Arneson, that is all I need. Oddly enough, even though I had come to SPACE to see the band in a better listening environment, the Madison show at Orton Park the next day turned out to be the superior one. Girl’s voice didn’t bother me near as much and the only annoyance from the audience was a woman with a shaky egg who thought she was part of the band. Best of all, I had made a request in Evanston for the next day that he honored.

Last year at an overcast and drizzly Waterfront festival I had embarrassed myself by yelling, surprisingly loudly, for “Imaginary Bars” when they returned for an encore. A surprised Dekker looked at me, and I added a quieter, “please…” He played it solo, and when he got to the line “The sun fell down and went to sleep,” the clouds parted and the sun came out. Wanting to avoid a repeat embarrassment, I went up to him after the show tonight and asked for it for the next day. He smiled, “oh yeah, last year the sun came out.” “That was me,” I admittedly sheepishly. “You got it.” This year he introduced the song by recalling last year’s events, “let’s see if we can recreate that.” Again, he played it solo. It was exquisite. He looked at me after and smiled, “Thank you” I whispered. Thank you.



Great Lake Swimmers

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