I’m running really late tonight.
I don’t like being late for gigs. I’m a front-and-centre kinda gal, which makes sense when you’re fairly short. I squeeze in at the back of the Captain’s Rest’s already-crowded basement where something is happening on stage. It’s a sweet, delicate, melodic refrain plucked on acoustic guitar. It’s a little disorientating, but pleasantly so, in the dark and the heat after the chill outside.
And then this ageless, otherworldly voice begins. The timbre reminds me of the monks I’d hear singing when I was a little girl. I close my eyes, and I feel myself getting sucked into the crowd – away from the stairs and the sounds of the Tuesday night pub quiz. Every so often I can see a white arm, tired eyes, a neat beard bobbing above a sea of silhouettes in front of me. Because I cannot see I have no idea what I’m hearing – there could be an army up there, entwining warped loops of guitar and strings. It could be one man and a bucketful of samples, which my friends tell me later was closer to the truth.
Suddenly the choppy feedback clears and all you’re left with is David Thomas Broughton’s voice – strained and foreign, playing his vocal chords like just another instrument, lamenting that one day, you may go. A pause before the samples and the reverb sweep it up into something different, something altogether more powerful. How Broughton’s music makes me feel I struggle to describe – never mind the usual verse-chorus-verse convention, here you cannot tell where one song ends and another begins. Yet, strangely, the crowd are captivated. Whatever background noise the room holds becomes a part of what Broughton crafts on stage: the clink of ice in somebody’s glass; a whisper; a crackle of scratchy feedback like the sound of a fire.
Then it stops. And there’s nervous laughter and a shuffling of feet from the audience, until somebody realises that now you’re supposed to applaud.
Dragged forward by the friends who arrived before me, I feel as if I am stepping into the light even before Shearwater climb onto the stage. When frontman Jonathan Meiburg opens his mouth to sing I imagine him as the narrator of some storybook mythology, bridging the gap between the final battle scene from a CS Lewis novel and Austin indie rock. Tall but unassuming, his vocal range startles as a spellbinding falsetto commands attention. Those big lead singles – ‘Rooks’ and ‘Castaways’, from new release The Golden Archipelago in particular – provide exhilarating, anthemic moments but between them the five-piece hit everything from battered, messy screams and feedback to the delicate glissandos Kimberly Burke coaxes from the glockenspiel with her cello bow.
There are moments of reverence here tonight and there’s a moment when, lost in a haze of guitar squall and battering the bass against the amplifier, Kevin Schneider loses his glasses and I panic as he thrashes dangerously close. Few bands working today can cover so much ground with as much passion and sincerity as Shearwater do. An epic performance.
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.