Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter / Christy McWilson – Tractor Tavern (Seattle, WA)
What’s this? Jesse Sykes and her band standing for most of a show at the Tractor? The hell, you say. Maybe it was the full moon. Maybe it was Mercury being in retrograde. Maybe this night was the beginning of a new trend for the Sweet Hereafter, heretofore known for their seated posture.
Regardless, nothing could distract from the intimacy of a neighborhood send-off show. With a summer full of midwest and European dates planned, Sykes informed the audience this would be their last show in Seattle until the fall. This was the audiences’ gain, however, as Sykes used the home-field advantage to unveil new songs.
Kicking off the set with “You Are Not Gotten Here”, Sykes revealed that this new material would be a more refined extension of her previous work. They then shifted to more familiar territory with “Reckless Burning”, the title track from last year’s debut, which built to a rumbling crescendo. Sykes and guitarist Phil Wandscher harmonized over the closing lyrics (“Goodnight Irene/ Goodnight Irene”), while violinist Anne Marie Ruljancich sustained the few straining notes that glued the song together.
On the mid-set numbers “Love Me, Someday” and “Don’t Let Me Go”, Wandscher’s reverberating guitar wrapped loosely around Sykes’ vocals, which seemed worthy of a ghostly Bobbie Gentry. The end of their set proved troublesome, with Wandscher complaining about the monitors before leaving the stage to Sykes and Ruljancich, who brought the show to a soothing close with a sparse, back-porch rendition of “Doralee”.
At first blush, Sykes’ haunting, unhurried laments may have seemed a poor match for the bill-sharing Christy McWilson. But both Seattle residents have their share of sorrows to convey, however differently they may be expressed.
McWilson, also performing a send-off show before an opening stint with Richard Thompson, barreled through a set culled mostly from her latest album, Bed Of Roses. On record, these songs are reminiscent of a rootsy Sandy Denny; onstage, however, McWilson transformed them into rollicking honky-tonkers. Amidst impassioned yelps and growls, McWilson shook her dark, curly hair and pounded her acoustic guitar while still capturing the melancholy of lyrics such as “It’s a complicated thing/To be broken like a wing” from “The Serpentine River”.
The standout was her resounding delivery of Jesse Colin Young’s “Darkness, Darkness” (one of two covers on Bed Of Roses). Surrounded by the sharp, dueling guitar work of Mark Notermann and newcomer Dave Patterson, McWilson bellowed the words, “Take away the pain of knowing/The emptiness of right now.” One thing was obvious as she gripped the microphone and fixed her dark eyes on the emptiness she has no doubt seen: She means it.