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Monday, February 28, 2011

Alexi Murdoch Relishes the Sound of Silence at the Swedish American

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 10:09 AM

Alexi Murdoch at Swedish American Hall Friday night.
  • Alexi Murdoch at Swedish American Hall Friday night.
Alexi Murdoch

Bart Davenport

Sarah Lee and Johnny

Silje Nes

February 25, 2011

@ Swedish American Music Hall

Better than: Any concert where you have to shush people.

It's a comfort to know that in a city -- and world -- of endless noise and cacophony and background chatter, there still exists the occasional palladium of monastic silence. For the singer-songwriters in search of a venue free from the annoying buzz of mid-song conversation, may we direct you to the Swedish American Music Hall, the cavernous wooden enclave where Alexi Murdoch headlined a sold-out Noise Pop gig on Friday.

Without exaggeration, we report that movie theaters are not this quiet. At least that was the case during Murdoch's set. A well-behaved audience might even be a requirement for getting to know this music, which puts every note in soft focus.

Murdoch, who has the lean and natural look of a hostel-jumping bohemian, is in the early-to-middle phase of an already adventurous career. The indie-folk stud's work has popped up in various television shows (The O.C., Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs) and movies (Garden State, Gone Baby Gone, Away We Go), and for good reason. His songs have a way of conjuring the sentimental, and his voice -- two parts Damien Jurado, one part Nick Drake, one part Spritualized's Jason Pierce -- has the authoritative quality found in books on tape. Listening made easy, this is. 

Murdoch's albums haven't yet won the favor of critics, partly because of his recordings' similarity to Drake and Jurado, but we suspect this might change upon the release of his new record in the coming weeks. The yet-to-be-released tracks from Towards the Sun, as heard on Friday night, benefited from deeper atmospherics. Murdoch's vocals also took on added depth when intentionally muffled, a trick mastered by Pierce on Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating Through Space, and on every interspace phone call to Houston's NASA Space Center.


Much like his music, Murdoch's charm is understatedly British. He acknowledged the near-freezing temperature outside, and told us about one fan who wouldn't be braving the weather to make the show: "My girlfriend's dad lives in Oakland, and he was like 'Nope, not coming out tonight." Tongue was also squarely in cheek when he reported about one critic who complain that Murdoch took too long tuning between songs. "He wanted the zero second gap ... The party mix."

In a smart move, Murdoch warned the crowd that he had "Crinan Wood" down as the last song on his set list, but that "given the awkwardness of walking down the corridor past you all, or going in this little closet, we'll just stay up here and play a few more," and boos quickly turned into cheers. For that song he channeled the instrumental stylings of Andrew Bird and strummed a violin like a guitar, building tension and momentum with barely any volume at all, the best song of the night for this critic's money.

"So imagine, If you will, we went back stage," Murdoch said, and the crowd played along and pretend-beckoned Murdoch back onstage with a furious stomp. "You're too kind, thank you," he said with a wink. For our kindness Murdoch played his hit song "Orange Sky," in which slight turns of rhythm and vinyl-scratched lyrics complemented the unchanging blue-hued mood lighting of the room.

Unfortunately, but not ruinously, some technical difficulties delayed the set for a few minutes here and there. We'll chalk that up to part of the Swedish American Hall unpredictability factor (which included a spilt beer from the upstairs overhang onto a few concertgoers, and the occasional reverberation heard from Tamaryn, the Black Ryder, and the Soft Moon playing next door at Café Du Nord concert). 

Bart Davenport
  • Bart Davenport
Oakland folk singer-songwriter Bart Davenport assumes the stage like a French busker, often holding his guitar like a trophy above his shoulder, singing romantic, playful, and sometimes dark songs to anyone who will listen. He introduced one song as "a fucked-up waltz," going on to explain that the Swedish American is a great place to test out things "you're not sure will work."

His songs, like those of many effective songwriters, seem of a place. In this case, we feel as if we're under the moonlight, strolling a European riverbank, stalking a person of interest. He's a deliberate vocalist and mostly a resident of the minor key, parrying flamenco flair with precise and brave fret play.

His banter had those in the hall smiling as well. He told us some of the songs we were hearing were made for a group of Germans to whom he was indebted after a European tour left him in the red. "I'm serious," he said. Later he said, "I assume you all got real drunk. I did. Don't forget to get reeeeaal drunk after this."

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