This was one of the best concerts i have seen in a long time. However, before i go into detail on this show, i must point out that Balmorhea were technically opening for a band called The Sleepy Sun. This is one of those shows were two bands happen to get lumped onto the same bill at a venue for no reason at all other than their respective tours took them through town at the same time. The Sleepy Sun is a drastically different band, and it felt, well, wrong to stay and watch them after Balmorhea. We ended up leaving in the middle of their second tune, and therefore, the ratings reflect only the Balmorhea performance.
Promptly at 8:45 PM, Balmorhea took the stage at The EARL. This is a six-piece act including a full string section of violin, cello, and upright bass, as well as drums, keyboard, and guitars. Rob Lowe and Michael Muller, the core of the band, traded off on acoustic guitar, electric bass, banjo, and piano. I am not sure if the other band members are the same ones who recorded the Constellations LP with Lowe and Muller. Given that the cellist on the record is named Nicole Kern, and the cellist who performed was male, i am guessing that this person, at least, is different. Or maybe his name is Nicole. Perhaps that is a male name in wherever he is from...
The cellist who perfomed this evening also played from sheet music.
At any rate, Balmorhea played as a six-piece, pseudo-classical band. At 8:45, when they started, there were perhaps 20 people in the room. At 9:30, when they ended, there were about 60, most of whom stood there quietly, entranced by the music. This respectful silence was rather useful, as the string half of the band was unamplified. This makes it all the more interesting that the band sounded so good. The drums, electric piano, and amplified acoustic guitar did not overpower the strings, as could easily have happened. And at the few times that the sheer density of the string sound overwhelmed the other instruments, it seemed as if that was supposed to happen. That is, the sound seemed mixed perfectly, allowing the band to play with those sonic dynamics in the room. And the crowd standing there, quietly waiting, helped a lot. A ruder, drunker crowd would have negatively affected the delicate sound of this performance.
Another sign that the crowd seemed to enjoy the show was that afterwards the merch table was swamped with people snapping up CDs and records. From a financial perspective, it looked to me as if the evening’s performance was successful in gaining Balmorhea new fans.
As well it should have been, since from the first notes to the last, lingering echo, i was utterly entranced. These six musicians all really knew what they were doing, and they sat up there and just tore into it. The band seemed to be enjoying themselves. I know that i sure did.
I am terrible with song names, so i cannot tell you what they performed. They did introduce a new song, called Clammer (sp?) that will be on a forthcoming 7". Otherwise, well, i recognized some tunes from Constellations, and i guess they played off of their first record as well.
The songs grow in strange ways. At times, the piano would pick out a slow melody, then the drummer would start rumbling away on the symbols, until the strings would join in, sawing away loudly, deeply, passionately. The songs would ebb, grow, and fade. At times just banjo, or piano, or violin would play, and at times all of the instruments would play. The sound varied between sparse and incredibly dense.
The violinist, who is rather dark-skinned and was dressed in dark colors, was
practically impossible to photograph. She played beautifully though.
Tempos changed too, drastically at times. With my extremely limited musical knowledge, it seems as if tempo changes are very difficult. Think about it this way -- most rock and/or pop acts do not change the tempo of their music within a given song. But Balmorhea, perhaps due to their classical training, did so. There was one tune in particular that started slowly, then the drums came in and slowly picked up speed, herding the other instruments along until they were playing at a breakneck pace. And then, suddenly, the drums slowed it back down.
The whole band in action.
The show was instrumental, with the exception of the time that the entire band harmonized wordlessly without the benefit of mics, the six of them just chanting into space over the sparse instrumentation. A truly beautiful moment.
Instrumental moment in blue.
All i can say is, WOW. This show was simply amazing. I will make a point of going to see Balmorhea whenever they play near me, and if you have the chance to see them, I strongly encourage you to do so.