Dueling Shows: Cave Singers v. Grand Hallway (Seattle, Mar. 6, 2010)
It’s not rare for there to be two great shows on one spring night, here in the hometown of Hendrix and Cobain. After all, people come here to make music, and more people stay to watch. We’ve had a hell of a few years, as I’ve mentioned before, far as the burgeoning Seattle alt/roots/Americana/country/indie/whatever scene goes. This particular night was perfect proof of just how far that scene has come of late.
For one thing, long-time alt-country band North Twin was sadly playing its last show across town in Ballard. (I’ll leave Kyla to comment on that as she sees fit, since she attended that show and I did not.) In my neck of the woods, or thereabouts, it was a battle between the orchestral indie pop (if it must be categorized as anything) of Grand Hallway at the Triple Door, versus the one-two punch of the Cave Singers and the Dutchess and the Duke around the corner at the Showbox. The latter was a No Depression-sponsored show and it was second on my agenda, so I’ll save it for last.
First up, Grand Hallway, who were joined for this occasion by a sizeable portion of the Seattle Rock Orchestra. The latter are a local outfit (naturally) which works together with rising indie rock bands to add creative and intuitive symphonic arrangements for a little extra punch. Of course, in this case, Grand Hallway is already the size of a small town, covering almost every instrument you can imagine between its eight members: guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, bass, keys, accordion, banjo, various and sundry percussion, two violins, several vocalists, and I’m sure I’m forgetting other items.
(I suppose I should mention, in the interest of full disclosure, that I’ve been known to handily beat frontman Tomo Nakayama at ping pong, and lose pathetically and miserably to keyboardist Shenandoah Davis at the same “sport.” However, given the balance this creates, I’m fairly certain the band’s variant ping pong skills, such as they are, aren’t enough to inform this or any other review I might write about them.)
Fact of the matter is that Grand Hallway is one of the most creative bands in town, and their self-produced, self-released Promenade CD is well worth any time your speakers could devote. Nakayama’s arrangements are at once fluid and surprising, and his enormous band’s contributions are remarkably simple and intuitive. I didn’t count, exactly, but I’d say there were darn near 40 people on that stage (more, once the children’s chorus joined in), and not once did anything feel crowded or over-accentuated. This is as much to the Seattle Rock Orchestra’s credit, I’m sure, as to that of Grand Hallway. But, making that many noises simple enough to keep the lyrics and imagery at the fore is quite a feat. The two outfits played two entire sets that night – I only caught the first one, but it was enough to hope they collaborate again soon.
They opened with a song called “Father’s Clothes,” which Nakayama had debuted at the same venue a month or so prior, during an episode of the CityArts-sponsored Song Show. It was interesting to see the contrast between that first performance (where it had been just him on acoustic guitar, with Davis on piano) and the fully orchestrated 40-ish-person arrangement debuted on this night. The evolution of a song is always interesting. In this case, it set a bar for the rest of the evening.
Around the corner and down the street, the Dutchess and the Duke were playing to a sold-out Showbox. Unfortunately – whether it was the loud, chatty crowd, the bar Grand Hallway had just set in my mind, or the energy of the performers (or all of the above) – this set was difficult to enjoy. I’ve seen this duo play several times, sometimes just the two of them, sometimes with a full band backing them. I couldn’t shake the feeling this night that their work would have been better served if they’d brought the band along. Alas, it was not their finest set.
Cave Singers, however, more than made up for it. Pulling largely from their most recent release, Welcome Joy, the trio somehow magically created a soundscape as vast and dynamic as that of the city-sized well of performers I’d just seen at the Triple Door. Maybe I don’t understand a word singer Pete Quirk sings when he’s at the mic (somehow enunciation is better on the records), but that doesn’t matter. His energy is palpable, his charisma is large, and the sheer musicality of everything the band does is enough on its own. It’s such a different flavor of whatever style of music you want to call it, yet both of these bands (Cave Singers and Grand Hallway) so adequately represent the spirit of the current Seattle music scene.
So much so, in fact, that they’ll both be playing at the Seattle party this Saturday during SXSW. Check out the full lineup for that. (I should also mention ND is one of the co-sponsors of that show.) See you there.