Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Barr Brothers at Anthology, November 1, 2011

I see live music nearly every night of the week which means that, if you include the days and nights when I hop to multiple shows, the amount of bands I see annually is somewhere in the high hundreds to low thousands. I love music and I love bands and I'm constantly impressed by shows, but I have to say that because I have such a high music tolerance (if that makes sense), it takes something really magical to blow my mind. Last night's show with The Barr Brothers was just that kind of show.

Going into the night, I had skimmed the press releases and such. The publicist added this note:
I saw them live in NYC recently and they were amazing. They're known for a kind of a mad-scientist approach to instrumentation, which includes a classical harp played through a fuzz pedal, an electric toolbox guitar, a hand-made peanut dish banjo, an old air-compressor and a PVC xylophone. It comes together to create beautiful, nuanced indie-folk with African rhythms and swampy rock guitar riffs thrown in.
I've had the album for a couple weeks and have listened to it several times, but maybe I hadn't listened in the right headspace or listening on my laptop wasn't the best way to go or maybe I just wasn't paying attention, because in no way was I prepared for the show we got. See more after the jump.

A lot of things have to come together for the kind of experience I had last night. We got to Anthology early and were seated at the very center front table. Unfortunately for the band and the venue, there was a really low presale, but this worked to our advantage because the tables were spread out instead of in their usual supper club arrangement. I generally don't mind sitting with strangers, but it makes for awkward photography and during the Milk Carton Kids show we shared a table with people who talked through the entire show which was incredibly frustrating. The sound at Anthology is amazing as it is, but when I realized my friend Tony was working the board, I knew we were going to have a flawless night. Before the show started, Andrew Barr found me and introduced himself to make sure we got in okay, leaving a huge impression. Honestly, why more bands don't realize what an impact giving a shit makes. One handshake and you can have a fan forever. 

We ordered our dinner and my food was perfect...a white bean puree soup with hazelnut, truffle oil, creme fraiche, and asiago cheese as a starter followed by their tenderloin of beef with fingerling potatoes and baby artichoke hearts. I swapped out the asparagus for butternut squash which was pureed with pumpkin spice, doubling as a dessert. Anthology's menu is expensive, but if you're out for a well prepared gourmet meal, you're gonna get it here. The menu is probably a barrier to entry for a lot of people, but for the occasional indie rock show the venue gets, it would behoove you to check it out.

So the stars aligned- perfect seats, perfect sound, perfect dinner- and shortly after 7:30, the show began. The Barr Brothers are a four-piece with Brad up front on guitar, Sarah on harp, Andres on pump organ, and Andrew on the kit, though Brad and Andrew are the only actual brothers of the group. Throughout the night, the songs and performance grew more intense and the audience was completely engaged in everything happening onstage. There were amazing guitar solos and songs that might be three or four minutes on record were extended to these epic pieces of music that let the music build without being over-indulgent. While there were maybe only about 60 people spread among the multi-level venue, everyone was completely gripped by the performance.

At one point, Andres and Andrew left the stage and Brad told the story of moving into an apartment in Montreal and hearing Sarah play harp through their shared wall and trying to learn something she was playing. He eventually knocked on her door to play it for her. The two collaborating feels like the core of the band, and they played "Sarah Through The Walls", an instrumental that was both intense and playful.  

After the core of their set, the band got a standing ovation and returned to the stage with performance that raised the hair on my arms. Brad brought out a guitar that had thread attached to each of the strings on his guitar, still attached to their spools. They unwound the spools and distributed them among me and a couple other pepole in the crowd with the goal of having us "play" the strings by creating friction by stroking the thread with our fingernails. I sucked, but it was pretty intense being a part of the music anyway. When the show was over, the band got another standing ovation and then they stuck around talking to the crowd and selling and signing merch.

Like I said, I see a lot of great shows, but sometimes you see a band and you know you're seeing something special that is going to hold onto you. The first time I saw Rocky Votolato, or Other Lives, or Blind Pilot, or Joshua James, or Dawes, or The Low Anthem....those are moments where I knew I had just been made a fan to my core, and now I can add The Barr Brothers to those bands that get that extra special place.

Be sure to watch these. The playlist has 8 videos.

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