Paste Magazine Tour – The Orange Peel – Asheville, NC – Oct. 24. 2010
The night started with a lovely set from Portland, Ore., band Mimicking Birds. It was easy to hear some level of Paul Simon influence in the lyricism and guitar work of frontman Nate Lacy, though their MySpace page indicates a greater influence by Crash Test Dummies (less audible, though I’m admittedly less familiar with CTD’s entire catalog). Mimicking Birds’ finest accomplishment is their navigation of precariously close harmonies, despite the bass-absent instrumental lineup. I’m generally fond of music with some kind of underbelly grounding force, usually this exists in the form of a particularly tight rhythm section. Mimicking Birds’ percussionist was pretty on-point, working a number of different sounds and accoutrements into the mix. But, I still missed the low, anchoring hum of a well-arranged bassline.
Jesse Sykes was up next, sans her band the Sweet Hereafter. She did, however, have on hand electric guitarist Phil Wandscher. Sykes noted that she and the band have been working on a new album full of “more upbeat” material, though it’s important to note these won’t be happy songs. Happy songs, she said, make her sad because you don’t really feel anything deeply when you hear them. She’d rather people consider her work depressing, because at least it stirs up a more staunch emotion. If that’s her goal, she’s nailing it right on the nose. The tunes she pulled from for this duo set were all from older releases and, as such, were neither upbeat nor “happy.” You could feel the cold rain of a Northwest mid-winter day, as she trod through the set’s most stand-out moment: a heartbreaking turn on her song “Dora Lee.”
With Sykes’ set complete, thus ended the quiet and sorrowful portion of the evening.
Langhorne Slim (pictured above) struck a remarkable contrast to the two bands which came before him, jumping and ripping and cavorting around the stage, unflappably. He pulled mostly from his latest album, Be Set Free, opening with a rocking rendition on “Say Yes,” and tearing the stage apart through crowd favorite “Cinderella.” The crowd seemed to be in his pocket from the get-go, knowing just when it was their turn to sing, and when to whip out the camera to try and capture one of his stunts. It was the liveliest set of the night, without question, and transitioned the mood quite nicely toward Jason Isbell‘s straight-up rock and roll.
Isbell’s command of his instrument is impressive, if understated. Being not so much a fan of gratuitous guitar soloing myself, it takes quite some doing to keep my attention when that’s the primary instrumental break in each song. Isbell managed the feat, though, repeatedly pouring tasteful, intuitive lead work from his ax. The other great feature of Isbell’s band seemed to be the keyboard skills of Derry deBorja. Working off two of those lovely Nord Electro 3s, deBorja’s interludes were well-timed and full of solid rock energy.
Given all that, it was almost easy to forget how far we’d come in the course of just a few hours – from thoughtful, poetic quietude to full-throttle rock and roll, and everything in between.