(Photo: Pop Matters)
September 25, 2008
Better Than: Thirsty Thursday.
Review by Melissa Baron
Music, especially in historical context, required a live performance. In the years predating recording, artists composed songs intended to resonate with an active and involved audience. The developments of technology and the changes in participatory arts transformed music into a passive (for the most part) experience. The fact remains, most bands are better live.
This concept of musical interaction seems to resonate heavily in the country sphere. The instrumental layering, heavy dance rhythms and active melodies beg for an audience. More importantly, the recorded sound lacks the luster, vibrancy and excitement of live country. This proves especially true for the Silver Jews, which hail from places like New England and New York, but sound most reminiscent of their new home in Nashville, TN. Their recordings are fantastically meticulous. However, in live performance they seem to transport the audience. It felt like the Fillmore could become a back yard in the south with the Silver Jews playing for an audience of friends and neighbors at a potluck (bassist Cassie seems like she might make a mean cornbread). Plus with matching suits (including western shirts) they've obviously got the southern thing going for them.
Two decades ago David Berman formed the Jews with vocalist/guitar player Stephen Malkmus and drummer Bob Nastanovich. The group started playing for fun; something to do after a long day of work. After Malkmus founded Pavement and began developing a large fan base the Jews seemed less like a separate band and more like a side project. Pavement's success aided the Silver Jews in forming a relationship with record label Drag City.
When Berman moved to Massachusetts to attend grad school, he met people interested in indie country and continued to record. In 2001, his wife Cassie began her vocal contributions to the band. The 2005 release included Cassie, Malkmus, Nastanovich as well as Will Oldham (Bonnie "Prince" Billy) and many more. Berman's background as a writer becomes incredibly relevant in his referential, poignant and powerful lyrics. In addition to writing music, the man writes short stories and poems.
Despite a historically turbulent lineup, the band maintains incredible stage chemistry centered around David and Cassie. Their vocal pairings are charming, but their loving connection is constantly present on stage. Berman often wanders towards his wife on bass and seems to sing directly to her. They make frequent eye contact and often exchange looks and smiles. They look so happy to play together that their euphoria seems to extend to the audience. Surrounding Cassie and David are musicians with a solid technical grasp of their instruments and an instinctive comprehension of live country music.
Despite the first-rate instrumentals, there was a problem with Berman's vocals. The vocals (and banter) were often too quiet or muddied to understand. It could be a technical issue or an articulation issue, but throughout the show parts of songs and almost all interaction with the audience came out almost incoherently. The set included "Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You," "Tennessee," "San Francisco B.C.," "Smith and Jones," "K-Hole," "Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed," "Punks in the Beerlight," "Party Barge" and more. Vocal issues aside, the Jews played a great show (with an especially great set list) and it's too bad indie kids don't dance, because it was a show worth dancing to.
Personal Bias: I think music should always be played live. I also like country music.
Random Detail: David recalled a story about one of their experiences in Texas. Apparently one of the Silver Jews are based in New England and he was talking to a Texan. The Texan talked about the Alamo and how there just aren't any heroes in New England like the heroes of the Alamo. At this point the band member brought up Paul Revere. The Texan said "Isn't that the guy who ran?"
By the Way: Tomorrow they take the tour to Los Angeles.