On Friday morning I woke up dazed and residually sparkling from the previous two nights of music. It was as if you had dipped me into a vat of iridescence and it was still clinging all over me the next day, and still.
Wednesday night I finally saw Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives at the Larimer Lounge up in Denver (ooh! listen here!), a show and a band I have been looking forward to experiencing live ever since I became addicted to their album in August. The next night they came down to have dinner and play a show at my house, along with the breathtaking Kelli Schaefer.
It was my first experience putting together a house show, and it was every bit as gratifying as I had hoped. I see shows in venues by the scads all throughout the year and have the routine down pat: ID, wristband, stamp, bar, angle by the stage, small talk, lights go down, earplugs come out, rockrockrock, cheer. [end scene]. The things I love most about music are the connective, adhesive, lightning bolts of electricity that sometimes (if you are lucky) come out and zap you as you listen. I don’t know what you’re in it for, but that is what I am in it for. And a house show is the most undiluted way I’ve seen to get there.
On Friday morning I sent DGPW on their way with coffee and dragged myself to work, and tried to string together a few coherent words to friends by email about the musical earthquake I’d just experienced, including Sara Brickner who wrote the first review that caught my attention in the first place. I told her that I was speechless, and then revised that no, I was just reeling. “in the last song, when i was singing along to ‘it all comes right‘ with everything in me and we were all harmonizing with no mics and bending at the waist to get down deep in our souls and stomping our feet and whoa whoa whoaaaaa ing– …i was just happy. ‘frigatebirds, acme anvils, holy fucking shit.’ yes.”
I didn’t know that Drew has been making music for years, and the depths of his songwriting make a bit more sense given that he’s been honing his craft and his words for a while. All of the depth and musical diversity that’s present on the album floored the crowd both nights. I still am not any better at categorizing what it was like, though, what kind of music he makes. All songs share a penchant for incisive, thoughtful lyricism, but those words may be screamed over rowdy feedback in “Bootstraps,” catcalled in a dirty falsetto on bluesy tracks like “Company,” or nearly whispered in the communal pouring-out of spirit on “It All Comes Right.” You’re just gonna have to go see him live to figure him out. Trust me.
But rewinding to Kelli Schaefer, who opened the set with just herself, her voice, and her bluesy sorrowful electric guitar. One local blogger likened the vibe in that room to Jeff Buckley and Grace, and I was pretty surprised to sit there for a moment and then agree with her. Every song had some bitingly sharp, beautifully conflicted, blindingly rich lyric and chord.
Something about the first lines gut-punched me with the surprise of identification: “jesus, turn this wine back into water, so we can quench our poor thirsty souls.” It hit me as a rejection of the miraculous in favor of the necessary, a request for a little less magic and, perhaps, a little less grace. It caught my attention immediately and transfixed me into her songs for the hundredth time during her set.
I sat on the floor by the staircase, with Drew and several Pastors’ Wives scattered around me and behind me on the stairs. When she got to the chorus, “so carry us over the finish line, we can see the end but our feet are so tired / it’s obvious we’re useless on our own…” all of their voices picked up easily on the harmonies as if the walls were beginning to seep melody. It was the best kind of surround sound, and it made my heart split wide open. It was a moment I desperately needed, one of those moments of musical communion, redemption, and surprise. I need to be carried through on those waves, often.
Kelli has a voice that needs to be heard, broadly. She is one of the most immediately arresting, intelligent women I have seen perform in a very long time. Sharing the same Amigo/Amiga label with Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives, she is endeavoring to fund her debut full-length through the Kickstarter project, just as Crooked Fingers and many other worthy artists have. She is trying to raise the requisite $4000 by November 18th. Please check it out if you would like to pledge to her full album by buying it in advance (with some super cool extra perks). I just did.
It is true, as the Sound on the Sound blog says, that “this woman right here, she’s a hurricane.”
[all photos from both shows at the Fuel/Friends Facebook Page]