CMJ has come and gone but the week proved to be a memorable one filled with discovering new artists and rediscovering old favorites.
If you’re like me and are just under the 21+ age limit of many of that week’s shows, finding something, anything, to attend proved to be a truly ridiculous adventure. Fortunately, some fantastic acts took pity upon the children, including Sea Wolf, a band that falls into the “old favorites” category and have been on the back-burner of my iPod playlists.
On the chilly Friday evening at the tail end of the music marathon,Sea Wolf, joined by Hey Marseilles and Southern folkie Jim White, graced the intimate stage at (le) poisson rouge. The red-tinged, smoky atmosphere of the venue had been filled to the brim with too-cool patrons who held their half-empty glasses and fashionably dressed bodies like they were at an art show, mulling over the artist’s intentions and so on.
Hey Marseilles, a seven-piece Seattle outfit, entered a stage filled with a mess of string instruments that were put well to use during their frantic yet earnest set. Their energy and heavy focus on a strong string section gave them the vibe of a softcore Mumford and Sons that hasn’t been enraged by the roughness of life while the musicality and lyrical content felt reminiscent of The Decemberists (this is a comparison that is driven home by the insanely similar vocal tone Hey Marseilles’ lead singer has to Colin Meloy). Towards the end of their setlist that included mostly new songs from a forthcoming album release, it was difficult not to smile during “Rio,” an old song of theirs that comes complete with a festive audience clap-along.
The positive energy of Hey Marseilles made way for Jim Whites typical Southern folk take on Jesus and highways and tumbleweeds over crunchy guitar riffs. With his twangy accent and quippy asides in-between songs (“Imagine if your dad was up here smiling stoned. That’s kind of what you got with me”) made him a fun and personable presence on stage. A highlight, in between all that talk of Jesus and tumbleweeds, came in the form of a song written for Kimya Dawson titled “Keep It Meaningful.”
While the audience lagged a bit for the first half of White’s set, the energy spiked during his ‘rock the vote’ speech that included his sage advice for everyone to ‘find a drunk and get him sober enough to vote.’ It was a perfect lead into the long, related tale he tells in his song “Newspaper,” which ended a set that felt like it had just begun.
Finally, Sea Wolf came on after a break that dragged on in between sets. Enthusiasm lifted once again as they jumped right into a rousing set filled with edge, bite, and all the folky goodness that had been presented throughout the night. While they may have not had the same joy or fervor as openers Hey Marseilles, who really stole the show with their genuine excitement to be up there, Sea Wolf felt exhilarating and charming and earnest, as they’ve elicited in the past. With a mix of old and new songs, the band continuously delivered flawless musicality until lead singer Alex Brown Church forgot the lyrics of a few older tunes, including “I Made a Resolution.” The band and the audience laughed along with Church and the show continued with its regularly scheduled indie joy.
After their final song, a thrilling version of “You’re a Wolf,” Sea Wolf returned for a warm encore with the song “Saint Catherine St.” It felt like a good-bye but not to the band — it was a good-bye to the weird week that was CMJ Music Marathon right before Saturday’s own warm encore and final hurrah.