moments before the wind.

September 3, 2006

it was sad when the great ship went down

Filed under: authenticity, folk, indie, labels, live shows, music, producers, recording, reviews, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 1:45 pm

I have some lingering thoughts from yesterday’s Bumbershoot experience, but they aren’t much to think about. I spent a lot of time remembering HFStival and seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I wondered why there was such a preponderance of bands that were fine, but not great, and I love funnel cakes.

Partly because I spent post of the time working, and partly because it is the one show that I really wanted to catch, I only really saw Laura Veirs‘ show. And I have a lot to say about it.

Laura Veirs is a singer/songwriter from these parts. She has been at it for a long time, and has released at least four albums that I know about. The last two have been pretty widespread because she signed with Nonesuch Records, a subsidiary of Sony/BMG with a really fantastic lineup of artists. Their roster is such that becoming part of it is nothing short of an honor. At least for singer/songwriters.

And Veirs is a fantastic example of one. She is very original, and she can hold her own in the lyrics department. I reviewed her newest once for The Crutch (May 2006) and have been a fan ever since. I wanted to see her show because I was curious how it would compare.

With the 4:45PM slot on an outdoor, West-facing stage, Veirs was staring straight at a low summer sun for the entire set. I am not sure whether this was the cause of her awkwardness, her off-key phrases, and the general discombobulation. It may have also been due to a broken guitar string at the start of her set. Either way, it’s fair to say that she seemed fairly uncomfortable up there, and I don’t believe she was entirely focused on the music. I am well aware of how easy it is to zone out on stage, but the kicker is that the audience can tell the difference between engagement and autopilot.

So here’s the thing: I liked her wavering pitch, the lack of reverb, and her awkward guitar playing. These things are conventionally frowned upon, because they expose an artist’s flaws. Reverb makes one sound majestic, where the alternative is a flattened sound. Balanced guitar picking highlights melody over the nature of the instrument itself, and as for singing on pitch, I have to say that I generally require this skill in an artist.

On her recorded music, Veirs never has pitch problems, of course, since that’s what studios are great at erasing. But I wonder: if her performance yesterday is indicative of her standard show, why would one try to completely smooth over the experience on tape as if she really does naturally sing with perfect pitch? That’s a trick that no touring artist can survive. Veirs’ whole aesthetic is off-kilter, like an underwater world of reality; it makes perfect sense that the way she brings that to the surface is in a similarly jarred manner. She’s not an artist with a lot of ego, and lal of a sudden the album that I’ve been loving seems like an overproduced schtick. Who, in the studio, made that decision, and for what end? It only increases the sense of disillusionment in moments like yesterday, when you find out that it’s really a whole different beast.

Luckily, this is a friendly beast, albeit unsettling. It has me thinking about recording techniques and what an audience really responds to. Certain moments of her show were incredibly compelling, and I’m certain that it’s because those were the moments where she pushed aside the autopilot controls and took the lead. I almost feel that if she had been that way the entire set, I wouldnt have even noticed the pitch problems.

I also really responded to Tucker Martine’s drumming. He’s the producer of the music too; maybe some of this is his doing, then.  But I don’t know.

Go read the review I linked to above; it’s about Walt Whitman. Also, check out the lyrics to this song, one of my favorites. Who else writes like this?:

“Lake Swimming”

Lake swimming
Shucking free our deadened selves
Like snakes and corn do
Our bodies tore off swimming suits
And all the old notions
The cold ocean far away

Enter the sun
Marching like a matador
Flashing her yellow velvet suit
Throwing a red cape on the sky
Old butterfly
I’ll dance with you
Though our wings may crumble
We can float like ash
Broken but the edges still shine

Lake swimming
Shucking free our deadened selves
Like snakes and corn do
Our bodies tore off swimming suits
And all the old notions
The cold ocean far away


1 Comment »

  1. You do.

    Comment by norm — September 4, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

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