On the one hand, Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiberg is an overgrown choirboy with the vibrato of an opera singer or a faulty washing-machine. On the other, he makes hauntingly beautiful music, testy and claustrophobic and wide-eyed, and his falsettos are unadulterated and honest: the way he sings on stage must be the exact same way that he sings in the shower.
Moved from the rained-out Castle Clinton to a small auditorium at Pace University (the same stage, incidentally, where Inside the Actor’s Studio is filmed), the show wasn’t large, thus fairly packed. More packed than seems proper for a Texan offshoot of another Texas band (Okkervil River). But for good reason-though often impenetrable, 2006’s Palo Santo was on a bunch of top 10s for album of the year, including NPR’s. Personally I’d always preferred Okkervil River to Shearwater, mostly because Will Sheff is an actual frontman-Meiberg lacks that heady charisma that Sheff has, half arrogance and half attention-whoring-but Palo Santo has a weird, sad energy that Okkervil seems to have lost.
Meiberg sang and screamed his way through an hour and a half, alternating banjo, piano, and guitar. The drummer, a dude-like dude who also tours with Okkervil (he seriously looks like he were just dropped from Poison), added some kick not quite present on the album. There were only a few moments of sheer heart-pounding noise; most of the time it was Meiburg and his melodies, with the only background being a bit of vibraphone and maybe a cymbal played with a violin bow. The first song he sang without even the banjo, deigning to fill up the little Pace University theater with just his voice.
Not terribly exciting, but there were moments of real rapture, when the audience was right there with his perpetually-almost-about-to-break voice and the noise and the trumpet and the music. And though I had no idea what he was saying, I sure agreed.
Mostly professionals, in states of early-to-almost-middle age. Apparently only the truly hip go see Shearwater: the woman on the left of me was talking about her new album and the woman on the right was talking about her new book. Also in attendance was one older-middle aged woman, clearly having taken one too many drugs in her storied life, who, as she loudly told everyone on line, was only there because “Palo Santo” is the name of a product in her essential oils company. Apparently there’s a tree in Ecuador that bleeds Palo Santo which is distilled into an oil, one that is aromatic and “anti-carcinogenic”, and her company is the only one who has it. About the actual band she had no idea whatsoever, and was suspicious of those around her who claimed to have actually heard of them.