Saturday, August 11, 2012

Horse Feathers, Dark Swallows and Grandma Kelsey @ the VAC (8/8/12)

Even if everybody and their grandmother hadn't encouraged me to check out this show (the Boise Weekly, Radio Boise, Go Listen Boise, AudioGnome, etc), I might've gone just to see the odd juxtaposition of friendly folkie Grandma Kelsey and melancholy drone-rockers Dark Swallows.  I like them fine individually, but putting them on the same bill?  Seemed to go together like cherries and pickles.  So of course, it intrigued me.

I'll say one thing about all the crud that has been in the air the past few days (there have been a few forest fires as well as a dust storm): it has made for some gorgeous sunsets.  The sun looked like a bloody gold coin as I drove down to the VAC this evening.  When I arrived, the diffused light made everything look like something out of Days of Heaven.

Who knew Garden City could actually look beautiful?

I counted about thirty people when I arrived, and that number would double as the night wore on.  I found a seat, read a bit from a book I brought along and listened to the old-school doo-wop playing on the PA system.

Local musician Kelsey Swope a.k.a. Grandma Kelsey started off the night.  I suppose that if her slightly shy earnestness had come off as forced or calculated at any point, her set would've made me want to scream.  But since it didn't, when she asked the audience to howl along to the chorus of her closer, I happily obliged.  That howled chorus, which she took from a dog and which symbolized man's fundamental loneliness and yearning to connect, is emblematic of Swope's music as a whole: it combines the cute with the absurd with the profound.  The tanginess of her lyrics balanced the sweetness of her singing and melodies, and her steady guitar strumming helped the blend go down.  If you have any tolerance for folkies, check out Grandma Kelsey sometime.  She's a rare bird and a good egg.

Here's a picture of the "love shrine" that Swope set up at the foot of the stage.  She brings it to all of her performances and encourages people to leave something out of love (not money--a little note or trinket).  If you find that icky, well, too bad for you.

After Grandma Kelsey came Dark Swallows.  I'd seen this group quite a few times before and enjoyed each performance, but none of them prepared me for this night's set.  I don't know if there's anything in Boise quite like this band's intricate weave of plaintive, memorable tunes, rousing guitar and bass riffs and precise, driving drums.  Their singing, playing and arrangements all sounded much smoother and more assured, which only added to the music's hypnotic power.  From what I heard this night, Dark Swallows are well on their way to becoming one of the absolute best groups in town.

Horse Feathers closed out the night.  This Portland band's moody, all-acoustic yet still rocking sound proved worthy of such disparate opening acts.  Justin Ringle's murmured vocals made it hard to hear exactly what he was saying, but I say give folkies a chance when they bring gifts (specifically some lovely melodies, a good drummer and a strong groove).  Of course, it helped that I liked what lyrics I could make out: their last song before their encore featured some sharp words about working your ass off to go back to a home you don't own.  When your group includes two violinists and a cellist and you still don't come off as fussy or precious, you're doing something right.

You can find info on these acts on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Very special thanks to Sam Stimpert and the VAC.

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