I walked into Sol Santa Fe just before 9 pm, Thursday night, in time to catch the last tune by Santa Fe's The Grannia Griffith Story. Though I had hoped to see more of the band, I had also felt a more urgent need, after work, to exercise, eat dinner and bond with my baby mama before leaving the house again. ---
Then, there was the drive, which on that particular night also included snowfall, however mild—perfect for listening to Sharon Van Etten's new release Tramp. She sings these incredibly vulnerable and contemplative lyrics in a manner I can only think of as Irish, though she's from Brooklyn. The album is very different from 2010's epic—less bold and defiant; even less singable, I suppose—but the instrumentation is more complex, and simultaneously subtler. Whereas epic rode on electric guitar and pump-organ; Tramp makes more room for Van Etten's vocals.
So, I couldn't help comparing Grannia Griffith's voice to Van Etten's. Then, I ran into Shannon Murphy, of Santa Fe's After Hours Alliance, who said the 19-year-old Griffith reminds her of a young Fiona Apple. Murphy might know better, being partnered up with the band's upright bassist Johnny Bell, and all. And Griffith did have a tendency to act coy and goofy between songs, while being totally composed and energetic during her performances.
Anyway, the night felt contemplative outside and in and I was fine with that. A dude finishing his beer at the door told Meow Wolf's Vince Kadalubek, who was manning the till, that the music was a little too solemn for him, but Kadalubek convinced him to stay, saying that Ivan & Alyosha would be up short. He described the Seattle five-piece as similar to Fleet Foxes, saying that he didn't care for the band's album, but that the live performance was worth it. I'd had the same experience with Fleet Foxes after seeing the band play at Pitchfork Music Festival, I told him, but I probably wouldn't chase down another show.
After an usually long set up tinkering with details that should have been worked out during sound check, Ivan & Alyosha finally started playing, breaking into four-part harmonies that soared for the heavens, but bounced off the ceiling.
An enthusiastic crowd of 30 or so people did their best to fill the space, with a handful actually standing on the dance floor. And I&A's Tim Wilson's awkward attempts to commune with the crowd—"that song was like giving birth to a child; at first it's disgusting…"—did endear him to them, but he's better as a vocalist.
My final impression: Ivan & Alyosha consists of five really nice guys who play pretty music that would better suit the ambiguous closing scene of a movie, the filmmakers attempting to give us some sense of hope without confirming anything in the film itself. I'm not sure the band needs three guitars and four voices, except to make this really big sound that begs us to run through city streets at dawn or along Northwestern sea cliffs in the mist, the sun striking through at key points. It's a new mountain sound that harkens back to yodeling—in part, because it becomes more interesting from a distance.
On my way out, I tell Kadalubek that I&A would make a good festival band. "The venue matters," I say. "This is a good venue, but not for this band."
He says Meow Wolf wouldn't typically book at band like that, but in the spirit of the collective's mission, members try to stay open to interpretation, and to different kinds of music.
Next up at SxSF: D Numbers with We Drew Lightening, Friday, March 9; Don Carlos and the Dubvison Band with Fyah Wyah, Saturday, March 10; Crystal Antlers & Sleepy Sun with Electric Guest, Sunday, March 11. For all dates and ticket information, visit southbysantafe.com.
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