The Sea and Cake, Matthew Friedberger, The Cush Trees Thursday, November 15
Full disclosure: The Sea and Cake are one of my favorite bands, for reasons I can't fully explain. I have most of their albums, as well as the solo albums of guitarist and singer Sam Prekop, and I listen to them pretty regularly. And yet, I would be hard pressed to name a single song beyond the title tracks, and probably could not match those songs to the tune.
Their performance last night provided some clarification, and definitely affirmation, as to why I like them so much. Guitarists Prekop and Archer Prewitt and drummer John McEntire were all wearing what looked like prison-issued denims, visually reinforcing the true musical journeymen they are. They were joined by Matthew Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces on bass, lost behind long hair and looking much more New York than Chicago.
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From the first notes of their 90-minute set, they nailed their unique mix of jazz-influenced rock, overlain with Prekop's distinctive, drowsy vocals. While he and Prewitt wove their guitars seamlessly, McEntire propelled the music much harder than on their recordings. Friedberger blended with McEntire beautifully, amazing given that this -- their last show of the tour -- was only his third performance with the band.
Prekop, playing an old red Telecaster, provided a finger-picked jazz rhythm and vocals, seldom looking up from the floor. Actually, there was a reason he seldom looked up: He seemed to be referring to pages of hand-written lyrics. Unfortunately, the mix did not allow his vocals to rise above the instrumentation. Prewitt was usually locked in a happy embrace with his guitar, frequently using an E-bow to wring out notes without strumming. Despite the songs being guitar-driven, Prewitt rarely took a true solo, usually striking poses when he did.
Prior to joining The Sea and Cake on bass, Matt Friedberger gave a solo performance, free-styling an extended story that seemed to deal with graveyards and haunted houses, spoken over a track to which he sometimes contributed keys or bass. He often looked a bit lost and uncomfortable, and frankly the whole experience was kind of David Lynch-meets-Tim Burton bizarre. It was a performance that demanded a lot of patience from the audience. Having seen Friedberger several times where he has provided masterful performances on piano and guitar (and now bass), this performance was a bit more out there.
Opening the evening was Fort Worth's The Cush. Their dream-pop struck a compelling balance of tone and musicianship, and will have me attending future performances.