Phosphorescent & J. Tillman at the Cedar, 08/03/10
August 3, 2010
Cedar Cultural Center
Two bands drove all the way from Seattle just to play for us at the Cedar Cultural Center on Tuesday night, as both Phosphorescent and J. Tillman delivered stirring, emotionally charged sets despite having driven for three days to get here. And while the drive might have had some effect on Phosphorescent frontman Matthew Houck's already delicate vocals, and certainly influenced J. Tillman's attitude, the bands seemed pleased to finally be done driving and able to play in front of an audience again.
J. Tillman is the stage name of Joshua Tillman, current drummer for Fleet Foxes, and he's taking a break from his highly successful folk-rock band in order to tour with his deeply personal, acoustic guitar-based songs. He played a moving 45-minute set for the highly attentive crowd, noting that he was "really grateful for this audience right now. I'd go pretty postal on any crowd more rambunctious than this." He started with a passionate rendition of "Three Sisters," from his forthcoming new record Singing Ax, and proceeded to play a set filled with those stark, heartfelt new songs. "One Task" and "Year In The Kingdom" (one of the only old songs played during Tillman's set) were both impassioned numbers that clearly showed a different, more intense side of Tillman, one that isn't so visible when he's behind the kit singing gorgeous harmonies with Fleet Foxes. His new songs were bold and honest, and based on this performance, his new record sounds quite promising.
Phosphorescent took the stage on this evening as a robust six-piece, and dedicated their first song, "My Dove, My Lamb," to Tillman. Houck said they haven't played that song in a while, and the band clearly eased their way into it, letting Houck lead the way, but it wound up being a rousing, sprawling version that transfixed the crowd. An intense rendition of "Los Angeles" was next, and it was a fiery number that, despite the band settling some sound issues, still managed to resonate strongly in the small room. And, after just those two expansive tracks, the band had already played for 20 minutes. The full band added a lot of fitful energy to these songs, which was most apparent on "Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)," which was turned into a rocking, southern bar band version, complete with soaring keys and a pedal steel guitar.
"We'll Be Here Soon" was apparently the mantra of the band as they made the long drive to Minneapolis from Seattle, and the song clearly had some extra weight due to that significance. Houck's Will Oldham-like vocals were faltering a bit during the set, so he leaned heavily on his band, adding longer jams at the end of their songs to make up for his wavering voice. "The Mermaid Parade" was exceptional, as was "A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise," with the band finally settled into the sound of the room and having fully shaken off the cobwebs of the long drive. The main set ended with a surprise, the first of four songs (including three in the encore) from Phosphorescent's excellent 2005 record Aw Come Aw Wry, "Joe Tex, These Taming Blues." The band, and the crowd, clearly had fun with this one, and it was an excellent way to end the set.
Houck came out alone for the encore, delivering a stunning version of "Wolves" that gave us all a glimpse into how most of his songs must be born, just him alone on an acoustic guitar. He experimented a bit with the finish, looping his vocals and guitar and creating a wild, echo effect as he fully lost himself in the song. Guitarist Jesse Anderson came out to lend his vocals to a tender version of "I Am a Full Grown Man (I Will Lay in the Grass All Day)," before Houck again had the stage to himself for an exquisite version of "South (Of America)." Houck joked that "if you keep clappin', I bet those boys will come out again." And, despite some time concerns, the band clearly wanted to play more, with Houck saying "we've been driving for three days, and it feels really good to play for you." With that, the band tore into a rousing version of "Dead Heart" that was among the best songs of the night. The 90-minute set came to a close with an exhilarating version of "At Death, A Proclamation" that closed the night on an absolute high. No matter how long a drive any of us took to get to the Cedar on Tuesday night, it was clearly worth it to both the band and the crowd alike.
Critic's Bias: First time seeing either of these bands perform (not counting Fleet Foxes shows).
The Crowd: Attentive and respectful, but a bit sparse.
Overheard In The Crowd: Nothing really, the crowd was well-mannered all night.
Random Notebook Dump: I was dismayed not to hear any Willie Nelson covers during Phosphorescent's set, since Houck recorded a whole albums worth of Nelson's songs on 2009's To Willie.
My Dove, My Lamb
Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)
We'll Be Here Soon
It's Hard To Be Humble (When You're From Alabama)
The Mermaid Parade
A Picture Of Our Torn Up Praise
Joe Tex, These Taming Blues
I Am A Full Grown Man (I Will Lay In The Grass All Day)
South (Of America)
At Death, A Proclamation