Friday, January 2, 2009

'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime When all the Birds Had Fled: Spirits of the Red City

Things to do in the New Year:
1)Make the house feel like a home.
2)Be better about deadlines.
3)Keep on engaging with active, vital culture.

I can take care of a couple of those things by getting this post up, and by going to see Spirits of the Red City at the Bryant-Lake Bowl this Sunday.

Photographer Staciaann and I tried to catch up with a couple of their members a couple Sundays ago- ‘Twas in the bleak midwinter, or so the song goes- but we were at the wrong apartment. After getting a promo copy of their upcoming release Hunter Moon and thoroughly enjoying it, these seemed like good people to talk to in frozen hush of the season. But through a series of mixups, I was on a snowy street in Uptown, at the wrong address, and they all seem to have fluttered away. Fortunately, we live in the digital age, and I do not need to rely upon my paltry scouting skills- they have left cairns in the form of friendly girlfriends to direct us to the CC Club, a damn fine place if there ever was one to kill a winters' evening.

Upon entering, we are greeted by the impish smile of Will Garrison, lead vocalist, guitars and the writer in the group. Around the table were Anthony Poretti, drums & percussion, and Jason Overby; banjo, accordion and guitars. And we hadn’t even met half the band. See, there are 9 of them, two sets of three siblings, some from Alaska, some from here, and some here-by-way-of any other number of continental stops, all wandering American musicians, folkloric harmonizers, peculiar ladies & gents. We talked about the disc and the band for about half an hour, my tape recorder didn’t work, I half-remember things anyway and left with a warm feeling of solidarity. Here are some pieced together snippets:

-I don’t know what their band name means. When I asked, Garrison demurred and Poretti and Overby backed him up. The title of the disc though, comes from the autumn moon, the large blood red moon whose bloated presence could be seen as a sun. This duality, and the blurring of the line there carried weight for Garrison and the group in the writing and construction of the disc.

-Despite that Hunter Moon sounds like it was a single basement recording session, full of organic immediacy and warmth, the disc was recorded around the schedules of the band members flowing though the Twin Cities. Poretti talked about James Waldo, the cellist, coming back from New York City where he studies to lay down the cello tracks, and then the other members listening to those tracks as a high-water mark to build and re-visit their own performance. This process and the constant communication between band members edged together the best possible sound for the disc, and kept a light touch.

-Of the size of the band and their closeness, Garrison said that they would be more likely to figure out how to play a song without a band member before asking someone to step in to play for them. This may explain why, with such far-flung members, they have only a handful of shows under their belts, but why those shows are special.

-Of the song “Focus & Blur”, Garrison said, “it is a drinking song. We were having a party and we wanted to see if we could get that party sound, so we brought the people down to the basement and had them sing along and have a good time while we recorded.” It worked- the song charges forward, raises a glass and chuckles.

-The song “Passing” is a jarring break, a collection of heaving chords and skittering percussion. When asked why, in the middle of this lush disc, there was this noise experiment, they pointed out that in the arc of a story, this is the third-act breakdown, a challenge to the listener not simply sit passively through, but to re-open and re-examine before the fourth act finish. And the last four tracks draw the disc to from a roar to a quaver, pulling full circle the warm humanity, the essence of good people and companionship that this music brings.

It was a loveley evening, the essence of good people. Starting off guarded, opening up, the music is life as lived. As Garrison sings on “Pride”, “And if they find us, her voice will disarm you.” Go and find, and be disarmed. Stay warm in the cold season.

Hunter Moon CD Release with Nona & Marshall (of Dark Dark Dark)
Bryant-Lake Bowl
Sunday January 4 at 9:00 pm (8:30 doors)
$8 in advance / $10 day of show

Spirits of the Red City is:
Will Garrison: guitars, lyrics, vocals
James Waldo: cello
Jason Overby: banjo, accordion, guitars
Brian Voerding: trumpet, box bass
Anthony Poretti: drums, percussion
Ben Waldo: mandolin, viola
Alyssa Overby: vocals
Rachel Overby: vocals
Will Markwardt: vocals, shaker
Jonathan Waldo: viola

1 comment:

Claire said...

I was entirely blown away at the Spirits of the Red City show last night, it brought me to tears, and then had me stilly dancing. They have a very smart sound, and I hope that they can prosper, they deserve it.