On Shearwater’s latest album, Animal Joy, there was a desire for something more immediate, vital and a bit primal. In a live setting, this change in aesthetics paid off in a big way.
The ornateness of Shearwater on record gets stripped away in concert and that becomes obvious quite early. What happens to Shearwater when everything is plugged in allows the band to shine, to let the vocals reach those soaring heights while also adding a human quality to the music.
Read more of the review and a full set of photos from Shearwater after the jump
Shearwater is comprised of several talented musicians who have won over fans but have garnered some detractors. Maybe their music it is too “precious” or pastoral in its emphasis to reach a pivotal emotional moment, but live, those barriers are removed. We see Shearwater unadorned and surprisingly strong.
Led by Jonathan Meiburg, Shearwater’s sweeping songs, full of scope and boundless range, are artfully crafted. On stage, there are musicians doing work, showing their years of apprenticeship and honing their craft. The musicality inherent in Shearwater’s recorded output, up to their eighth studio album now with Animal Joy, is further defined live. With the music sounding as pristine as ever, other members of the band were allowed to shine.
The animal instinct for Shearwater at the Music Hall of Williamsburg was led by Danny Reisch on drums. There was a muscularity on display that may have surprised many people. In many ways, Shearwater are an actual rock band when they step on stage. There is a noise, a loudness and energy that elevate Shearwater’s songs beyond just being gorgeous and expansive.
Meiburg’s vocals were just as you expected, full of range, theatrics and passion. There were plenty of jokes on stage between the band, adding to the camaraderie of the night. Shearwater mostly stuck to Animal Joy for the night, which was quite effective. Songs like “Animal Life,” especially when Meiburg stats to bellow, felt so vibrant and actually accessible. There was an easy-going undercurrent that was a common thread for each of the songs from Animal Joy like “Insolence” or “Immaculate.”
In other songs like “Breaking the Yearlings” or “Dread Sovereign,” the band tread on more conventional rock territory. Not a slight to the band, rather an interesting departure from the more grandiose proceedings that have enamored Shearwater to so many.
Shearwater make for a perfect opener and an even better headliner. Fans waiting around to see Sharon Van Etten would have been moved and impressed by a band they may not have heard of. For Shearwater fans, getting the bonus of seeing Sharon Van Etten later, the set was a perfect encapsulation of the band and its current sound.
When Shearwater headline their own tour, not only will fans get to see them in all of their Animal Joy glory but will also get a glimpse of how they got to this point with older material.