Sea Wolf's Alex Brown Church at the Turf Club, 9/27/10
September 27, 2010
Turf Club, St. Paul
Monday doesn't necessarily seem like a night to go out and party (from a responsible standpoint anyway), but Sea Wolf isn't really a party band, either, so that dovetailed nicely.
Alex Brown Church is out on a solo tour with his seemingly never ending array of songs with lyrics that often center around nature and the elements--whether literally or to paint a story of the damage that relationships can do to your psyche--that mostly live in the last quarter of the calendar year, causing one to want to maybe don a pea coat, even inside the formidable humidity present at the Turf Club. Without a backing band it was hard to know what to expect, but it ended up being a pretty perfect show for the beginning of autumn.
Surprisingly, the songs didn't lose much at all in an acoustic format; indeed, Sea Wolf's songs are mostly built around an acoustic guitar, but the backing instruments did much on the records to create an atmosphere that could only be accurately described as flowering tundra. Minus those instruments, however, the songs took on more of a sense of urgency, giving many of them a much different aural texture--more desert than tundra.
Church used the audience as an instrument during "Winter Windows," asking us to clap along for the last half, and as he grabbed an electric guitar for "The Garden You Planted" and "I Made A Resolution" from the Get To the River Before it Runs Too Low EP, he amusingly observed, "Ok, it's not exactly acoustic, but I never get to play this thing." Church makes it's seem possible to be forlorn and hopeful at the same time and made that fairly clear as he revealed what "Turn the Dirt Over" is about: his brother, a Seattle firefighter, died in the line of duty some years back and the song serves as a tribute to him (and, one would hope, catharsis for Church himself.)
Church danced like a pied piper during much of the set, bouncing back and forth from the front of the stage to back, like he was the world's last real troubadour. He was laughing and smiling in between songs and it was clear he was having a great time. He closed with a stellar rendition of "Middle Distance Runner" and a subdued "Wicked Blood," then fleshed out the set a bit with a slightly shortened "Leaves In The River" (subbing "ooohs" for the piano parts) and then brought openers Patrick Park and Sera Cahoone onstage for "You're A Wolf".
It's easy to get overly sentimental or just plain corny working within the indie-folk genre, but Sea Wolf has almost single-handedly breathed new life into a genre that was quickly going stale, while also becoming the genre's new measuring stick. Monday's set at the Turf proved once and for all there has been no studio trickery or anything else untoward at work--Alex Brown Church is the real deal, it was just him and a guitar up there for roughly an hour and hardly anyone even excused themselves to the rest room. Talent like that can't be falsified.
Critics' bias: I bought Leaves In The River at Amoeba on a three-day trip to Los Angeles in '07 so I didn't have to listen to the awful L.A. radio stations in my rental car. I must have listened to it 20 times that weekend and fell in love with it.
The crowd: Extraordinarily quiet, except for two hammered frat-ish guys who stuck out like sore thumbs.
Overheard in the crowd: "Guys get 10 times hotter when they pick up an electric guitar."
Random notebook dump: Think about your favorite songs, are they still good stripped down to just a guitar? These are.
For more photos: See our complete slideshow by Erik Hess.
The Rose Captain
Black Leaf Falls
Dew In The Grass
The Garden You Planted
I Made A Resolution
Turn The Dirt Over
Middle Distance Runner
Leaves In The River
You're A Wolf