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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hey Marseilles Bring the New with the Old at Brick & Mortar

Posted By on Thu, Sep 3, 2015 at 10:25 AM

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Hey Marseilles
Wed., Sept. 2, 2015
Brick & Mortar

Better Than: Watching the Dodgers complete a sweep of the Giants. Damn you Kershaw, you magnificent beast!

Hey Marseilles need only take the stage for one to recognize their affection for each other as a band. Crammed into the intimate space of the Mission’s Brick & Mortar, the six bandmates — along with a cello, keyboards, drums, violin, and more — seemed at home on the tiny stage, a mess of elbows and cords and gorgeous melancholy emanating from their instruments. On tour ostensibly to warm up before a more proper odyssey behind their as-yet-untitled third album, singer Matt Bishop politely asked the crowd if they could “play some new songs.”

There is always a risk with a show that relies heavily on unreleased material. On the one hand, it can be a thrilling preview of work to come, like Green Day’s slew of local secret shows in 2009, including one at the Fox in Oakland, where they played 21st Century Breakdowns in its entirety before the album was out. At the other extreme, it can foster a disconnect between audience and band, the former alienated by the unfamiliarity of the latter’s music consisting largely of songs they don’t recognize. So when Bishop made his proclamation a few tracks into Hey Marseilles' set Wednesday evening, it was more than a little surprising. When a big band employs this tactic, it still has the chance to spectacularly fail, but for an up-and-coming Seattle sextet whose audience almost assuredly bought tickets on the strength of their best-known tracks? Ballsy, to say the least. But here’s the thing: they nailed it.

If you haven’t yet had the chance to hear Hey Marseilles, you’ll find both their 2009 debut album To Travels & Trunks and 2013’s Lines We Trace an impressive array of sharp lyrics, lush strings, and refined musicianship. For a set that lasted 70 minutes, there was ample material to draw from. A number of beloved tracks did make the cut, including “Heartbeats,” “Bright Star Burning,” and “Rio.” There can be no question, however, that it was the band’s unreleased material that proved to be the highlight of the night. Spanning four or five songs of the evening’s setlist, their new material was something special, perhaps the first hints of a larger (and overdue) success to come.

One song opened with brothers Sam and Jacob Anderson in unison on the cello and viola respectively, an aggressive refrain that gave way to a stunningly potent rock song much harder than most of the band’s material. Another featured them picking at their strings ala Andrew Bird, the noise jarring and organic. Through each number was the anchor of Bishop’s voice—a singular quantity—equal measures of wisdom and wanting. His pseudo-brogue lends an air of old-world Europe to the music, and his stage presence, reserved but invested, is the perfect counterpoint to the infectious enthusiasm of his bandmates when they dig in on a song.

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Particularly impressive was the aforementioned Sam Anderson, an unbridled fury of talent on stage. Switching effortlessly (midsong no less) between cello and electric bass, as well as being the secondary singer behind Bishop, Anderson earned his keep on Wednesday night. At one point he was forced to momentarily delay a song while he plucked the frayed matter from his cello bow, the end result of rigorous playing from the track before. He seemed genuinely like he was home, three inches from his brother stage right and next to Bishop, who seemed lonely with his space on stage and frequently wedged himself by Anderson or guitarist Nick Ward so as not be left out of the fun. When Anderson returned for a vociferously demanded encore, he demurely leaned into the mic and admitted, “it’s cool, we don’t have anywhere to go.”

If one word kept coming to mind during Hey Marseilles’ performance, it’s polished. In some sense, it’s arbitrary – you better have a polished sound if you're bringing drums, keyboards, guitar, cello, viola, and bass together through the play of six musicians on a tiny stage – but that expectation belies the difficulty in finding modesty in a glut of instrumental opportunity. It would be easy to oversaturate, and many bands of their size and sensibilities do, opting for the clown car effect of seeing how many different sounds and instruments they can fit into one song. Not Hey Marseilles. Their willingness to be frugal with their array of musical options makes each one a sweet surprise when it finally arrives.

So yes Matt Bishop, you can play us some new songs.

Critic’s Notebook:

- If there’s a sporting event you think you want to see, it’s hard to do better than a quick drink at Zeitgeist before a show at Brick & Mortar. Spoiler: in hindsight, you may not want to actually see that sporting event.

-Opening band Wildling is one to look out for. Their cover of “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young was a nice blend of homage and unobtrusive tweaks to make the track their own.

-Is Hey Marseilles' third album out yet? No? Damn. 

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About The Author

Zack Ruskin

Zack Ruskin

Zack was born in San Francisco and never found a reason to leave. He has written for Consequence of Sound, The Believer, The Millions, and The Rumpus. He is still in search of a Bort license plate.

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