Live Concert Review - Under the Willow!
captain — Fri, 09/21/2012 - 06:30
I like to say that music is formula plus shivers.
Earlier this month, I had a ridiculously good night being treated to both when I saw the nascent Chicago-land band Under the Willow at a house party in Rock Island.
On the formula side, it's a 5-piece band that looks good, sounds good, and knows how to listen to each other. Hayley, Joe, and Patrick play a variety of stringed instruments, rotating among mandolin, banjo, guitar, and slide guitar. Dani plays varied percussion instruments, and Erin shreds the fiddle. All three of the ladies contributed vocals, and the blend was effortless. I noticed some very advanced vocal techniques from Erin, in particular a messa di voce dynamic swell that raised the hair on my neck.
They're calling themselves "newgrass" on their first demo release, but that doesn't quite cover it. Their music is clearly inspired by the acoustical tradition, but certainly not restrained by it. Accessible but smart, they covered a lot of different grooves and genres in the space of a set. I felt hints of Iron & Wine, Animal Collective, Andrew Bird, Grass-Fed Kids (who also played that night), and of course something distinctly original.
They played a few choice covers, but filled the rest of their set with original music. The songwriting was lyrical, imaginative, and edgy in a "think-about-it" kind of way. The PA sounded good, and was pretty much at the perfect volume, a strange and happy occurrence for a house party. But I love bands that know how to play without a PA - bands that really listen to each other. They are far and away the easiest bands to record, because they use instruments that have amazing tone, and they understand musical dynamics. And when you add a PA, it's still good. Just louder.
So, the formula is in place. Solid.
The really crucial question, especially when it's live music, is shivers? And the answer is YES. Which is really what I will remember about the show. On a personal note, I came to the show feeling essentially busted, having had 3 emotionally draining days in a row. Then, I got lost in the music, danced my ass off, and left singing.
And that's why I recommend you go see this band - because shivers. Because I can't explain how good they are. Whatever it is, it's freaking magic. Go see it, and explain it to me. I will see you at the show. And the afterparty.
River Drive Records