S. Carey and Other Lives at Hi-Dive
Bon Iver has certainly cast as big a shadow as any in the indie music world over the last few years, one that has creeped into the mainstream (see “Monster” and “Lost in the World” by one West, Kanye). Very few indie artists have incurred the love-waves of praise or induced the staggering amounts of he and she-boners among music fans of all stripes as this band, the weight of which was felt on South Broadway on Monday night, where S. Carey - a band led by the drummer from said indie megaband – was playing.
I rolled up at 8:45, 15 minutes before showtime, to find a line of people stretching down to the Goodwill, and a bit more high-fiving than expected. Who high-fives at a folk show on a Monday night? Why is the Hi-Dive so unbelievably packed with rowdy flannels and back-of-the-lady-shoulder tattoos? Bon Iver boners, I suppose…
Turns out I was only partially right. Other Lives, opening the night, brought in hoards of friends and family from their hometown of Stillwater, Oklahoma (so many “STILLWATTERRR” chants–Almost Famous, anyone?), who whooped and hollered throughout their set, and not entirely without merit.
Other Lives, led by a beard that belonged to either a man or woman (plenty to indicate both), made their way impressively through a set of dusty and graceful americana. Most notably, the various Talented Beards proved to be very capable eccentrics, nonchalantly switching out telecasters for trumpets, pump organs for cellos, drum mallets for violin bows. Cousins of Fleet Foxes, maybe.
Wisconsin’s S. Carey, a group a perfectly friendly-looking bros, took the stage in front of a crowd that was still buzzing with Stillwater Pride and Bon Iver Bonerdom. Perhaps too much of it. They began their set with a slowly building drone – all gentle pedal-down piano pulses, bowed vibraphones and standup basses, cymbal washes and e-bowed guitars. Barely audible at first except to those of us really paying attention, it took a solid couple minutes of steadily loudening tones and bandleader Sean Carey’s stubbornly passionate facial expressions to tame the crowd into submission.
With the crowd quieted to a proper folk-show-on-a-monday-night volume, however, the band played through a number of cuts from All We Grow, Carey’s debut album released in August of last year. They more or less stuck to the forms and arrangements of the recordings (and why not?), and while the songs were certainly strong enough to keep me engaged and at times moved, the dynamics began to feel a bit flat after the fourth song or so. They did, however, manage to revive things with “Action,” a raucous number of building percussion and broken overdriven guitar chords. After this little shot of adrenaline, the gentle folk-drones felt right again.
As I’ve probably exemplified here, it’s easy – perhaps unfairly so – to let Carey’s work with Bon Iver completely define him as an artist. All We Grow is a flat out gorgeous folk record that draws influence from modern folk heroes Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens and yes, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, as well as the minimalist drones of modern classical composers Steve Reich and Terry Riley. While the band wasn’t entirely successful in translating the album’s aching intimacy and hushed nuance to a live setting, S. Carey’s set was nevertheless full of captivatingly beautiful songs by an undeniably talented artist.