Gig Review: Shearwater @ The Roadhouse, Manchester, 16th September 2008

I’ve been trying to get into Shearwater of late but it’s been a bit of a struggle. While I find their last couple of albums, Palo Santo and Rook, to be eminently listenable and quite enjoyable affairs, there just seems to be something missing, something that’s stopping me from declaring myself a fully-fledged fan. The main problem I have is that the songs don’t seem to stay with me too long after I’ve listened to them; there’s only a faint glimmer of recognition when I next put on an album. As for the songs’ titles: forget it.

I was hoping that the Roadhouse gig last Tuesday would fill in the missing pieces, that something would click and I’d finally be able to fully embrace the Shearwater enigma. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. Watching the gig was very similar to listening to the albums: it was largely enjoyable, I recognised almost everything they played, but a day later I couldn’t tell you what they’d played – even listening back to those albums. There were a couple of exceptions to this: “Rooks” is a gorgeous track, their best as far as I’m concerned, and the band certainly did it justice on the night while “Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five” is not one of my favourites but is one of the few Shearwater tracks that wears its title on its sleeve.

The band can certainly cut it live, though it’s a shame that so few people turned up to witness it. There were a huge number of different instruments on the stage – more, perhaps, than people in the crowd – and the band members swapped roles with great ease. Drummer Thor Harris – a guy who looks exactly like his name might suggest – certainly deserves much praise in this respect, although his drumming and snare sound were a little overbearing at times and I certainly hadn’t forgotten his performance the last time I saw him drumming for Bill Callahan. As well as drums he handled clarinet, glockenspiel and dulcimer with great aplomb and has certainly risen in my estimation. If only his bandmates had just an iota of his personality. There was barely any attempt to communicate with the audience and singer Jonathan Meiburg has the aura of a grown-up choirboy, which, I believe, he actually is. Compared to Okkervil River – lead by former Shearwater member, the charismatic, swaggering Will Sheff – they are shrinking violets. Maybe it’s this lack of personality and the inherent lack of character in many of the songs that has stopped them from becoming a band that I love rather than one that I merely like.

Shearwater – Rooks

Shearwater – White Waves

5 Responses to “Gig Review: Shearwater @ The Roadhouse, Manchester, 16th September 2008”

  • Laurie Says:

    That’s a shame to hear that the show wasn’t quite what you had hoped. It worked the opposite for us here in the States. I fell in love with the album, and the show surpassed anything I could have imagined. That was after getting there about 6 hours earlier too as we didn’t realize there were 2 opening bands (Evangelicals were excellent!) Definitely my CD of the year AND the best show of 2008. And we see about 3 shows a week! (MMJ is a very close 2nd :-)).

  • Claire Says:

    Did you not see Air Cav in support? They were mightly impressive!

  • The Ledge Says:

    Damn, I forgot to mention Air Cav. I did catch their last couple of songs and the sounded pretty great. They’re kind of folky shoegazers if I remember.

    And sorry, Laurie, I like Shearwater but not nearly as much as I think I should.

  • JustHipper Says:

    Hey @TheLedge you should give a nod to the mention of My Morning Jacket by @Laurie who will surely have put on 2 of the best shows we’ve seen this year in those end of year gig lists….

  • Agnes Says:

    I’m a bit the same. I’ve tried to get into their stuff, but only a couple of tracks have managed to stick with me, which is a pity because I get what they’re trying to do, but they don’t seem to execute it in a way that works for me. You’re never gonna fall in love with every band you come across, but at least you had a go!

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