“This venue says it’s a place for emerging artists,” Shearwater vocalist Jonathan Meiburg mentioned early in their Underground Arts set last Saturday night. “We’ve been emerging for 15 years.” It was meant as a self-deprecating statement, but the reality is that Meiburg and band have gradually crafted a body of work that at once defies genre and stands as a bold musical statement. The massive guitars over plaintive, shimmering vocals – the mesmerizing journeys from unnamed islands to the shores of a darkening America. It’s all laid out and stripped bare in a lush layered sound that is distinctly Shearwater.
On the penultimate night of a tour in support of their latest album Jet Plane and Oxbow, the band were sharp and passionate, and lamenting the end of what has been a great experience sharing this new work. Almost every track from the catchy Jet Plane found its way into the set. From the opening synth spirals of “Prime” through “Back Channels,” “Pale King” and “Radio Silence,” the material is perhaps their deepest yet. “Quiet Americans” took on a new meaning as the lines “Our dull silence, our disconnected lives / Pull out the lightning dust / At the mention of his name / Whither the Americans” echoing remarks by Meiburg about his father, second in command at the EPA, and what his future is facing.
The band’s young touring band, with three new members as well as drummer Josh Halpern, were sublime. Other highlights were “Rooks” from the Rook album, “You As You Were” from Animal Joy and “Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five” from Palo Santo. Their surprise encore opened with “Hail, Mary” from Palo Santo before shifting into a trio of spirited Bowie covers – “African All Night,” “Scary Monsters” (which Meiburg suggested would be an appropriate national anthem), and “Don’t Look Back In Anger.”
Shearwater do not sound like an American band, they never have. But this mix of rock and roll, folk, prog and ambient music sounds elemental in its current form. Here’s to hoping they make their way back soon.
Cross Record opened with a pleasant, shoegazy set from the Austin duo.
A Long Time Away
You As You Were
Wildlife in America
Landscape at Speed
Stray Light at Clouds Hill
African Night Flight (Bowie)
Scary Monsters (Bowie)
Look Back in Anger (Bowie)
Shearwater, Underground Arts