There weren’t a whole lot of people in Proctors’ GE Theatre last Friday for the launch of the Eighth Step’s new Indie 8th Step series, which aims at bringing young indie pop and rock bands to the venerable coffeehouse.
“Hey, the whole front row is empty. Come on and sit down front, so we can be more family-ish,” declared vocalist-guitarist Ari Picker, frontman for Lost in the Trees.
No one moved.
“Or you can just stay where you are, and we can be divorced,” he added. The crowd laughed. Then they got up and moved down front.
The small number of folks in the theater didn’t seem to bother the members of the Chapel Hill band, and from the very start it was clear that the lucky ones in attendance where going to be treated to something special.
For the opening, “All Alone in an Empty House” – the title track of the seven-piece band’s new album on Anti- Records – the musical line-up featured a violin, drums, two cellos, a 12-string guitar strung with just six strings, a tuba and an accordion.
For “Song for the Painter” a couple of songs later, Lost in the Trees added an autoharp, a French horn and a glockenspiel.
They continued to mix up the combinations of instruments throughout their 75-minute Nippertown debut, keeping Picker’s rock-meets-classical-meets-folk songs always sounding fresh and musically inventive. Unlike so many other attempted meldings of classical music and rock, it was a bold, organic sound. The strings weren’t an afterthought tacked on to try to sweeten the song. They were integral. They were essential. And they were thrilling to hear. (A mid-set instrumental quartet featuring violin, two cellos and tuba was especially marvelous.)
Picker is not merely dabbling with classical music elements. He’s studied at the prestigious Berklee School of Music and his first symphony has already been performed. He knows what he’s doing compositionally speaking, and you can hear it in the intricate interplay of the instruments.
Friday night’s small crowd made for an especially intimate performance. “I’ll have to come up with some stories tonight,” Picker said. “This feels like a storytelling crowd.” Not only did he tell a few stories, but several times during the show, the concert turned into a relaxed Q&A session with members of the audience inquiring about his composing and recording processes.
Formerly a sprawling collective, the band has recently settled into a rather stable seven-piece line-up (although the Eighth Step was only the new drummer’s fifth or sixth gig with the band).
It was a brilliant performance.
Previously unannounced, a trio line-up of the NYC/Philly band Cuddle Magic opened the show with an eclectic 35-minute set led by bassist-guitarist-vocalist Ben Davis, who is also a member of Railbird. The trio was joined by cellist Jeremy Harman, Railbird’s Sarah Pedinotti (on vocals and harmonica) and some intentionally cheesy, vintage drum machines for various selections.
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
LOST IN THE TREES SET LIST
All Alone in an Empty House
Walk Around the Lake
Song for the Painter
??? (instrumental quartet)
Lost in the Snow
An Artist’s Song
Time Taunts Me
Wooden Walls of the Forest Church