Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Sara Ayers
“This band was going to be a one-day recording project by Will and me back in 1999,” Jonathan Meiburg explained to the crowd at Club Helsinki about the origins of his band Shearwater. “So be careful making plans like that…”
The “Will” that he referred to is Okkervil River bandleader (and former Shearwater co-leader) Will Sheff, who opened the show with a 45-minute solo set of his own. The prospect of Sheff and Meiburg reuniting on stage for the first time in years was full of promise, but in the end, the anticipation was greater than the pay-off. The two teamed up for only one song during Sheff’s set – “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine” from Shearwater’s 2004 album, “Winged Life.”
And it turned out, the evening wasn’t about reunions or looking backward, but rather a celebration of the new, more muscular approach that Shearwater has taken with their brand new album, “Animal Joy,” their debut for Sub Pop. And there was absolutely nothing disappointing about that.
Although they can be heard on the new album, bandmembers Kimberley Burke (bass) and Thor Harris (drums) have taken a hiatus from touring, and Meiburg has surrounded himself with a crack four-piece crew of musicians – most notably drummer Danny Reisch (who co-produced “Animal Joy” with the band) and the fabulously versatile Lucas Oswald (who spent much of the night conjuring sounds from a synth hidden in a wooden box, but also contributed guitar, drums and backing vocals).
The focus, of course, was squarely on Meiburg, whose majestic choir-boy vocals (especially in falsetto) evoked an other-worldly counter-point to the band’s lean, powerhouse assault. From behind the keyboard, he employed his keening wordless vocals as an instrument on the opening “The Snow Leopard,” although throughout most of the 75-minute performance he led the guitar attack (sometimes a three-guitar army) through a series of sweepingly cinematic, open-hearted anthems, including “Animal Life,” “Star of the Age,” the Stones-like encore of “White Waves” (driven by Christiaan Mader’s fuzzed-out bass) and “Pushing the River,” which roared to a climax in a fantasia of frenzied feedback.
Shearwater sounded hungry and reinvigorated by their change of sonic attitude, howling into the night as they embarked on a new chapter.
SHEARWATER SET LIST
The Snow Leopard
You as You Were
Run the Banner Down
Pushing the River
Breaking the Yearling
Star of the Age