Monday, February 2, 2009

The Spin: Silver Jews Final Show at Cumberland Caverns' Bluegrass Underground

Posted By on Mon, Feb 2, 2009 at 10:08 AM

Say what you will about The Spin's penchant for impunctuality; we know when to show up on time. Even after a near two-hour car ride to a dank hole in the ground in McMinnville, even when it involves being wrangled and herded down a path with confused-looking hipsters and families led by tour guides--all looking more than a bit like cattle--we know when to show up on time. And as we descended into the depths of the Cumberland Caverns, we overheard a preteen ask his father, "How long did it take 'em to build this?" Damn. And we thought our generation was doomed. Keep an eye out for that one.

It was shortly before 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon as we made our way into Cumberland Caverns' Volcano Room, a large chamber dimly lit and musty with cave stank. We quickly spotted a few dozen familiar faces--mostly those of Nashville show-goers and musicians, though Deerhunter's Bradford Cox was also in the mix. We managed to share a few words with William Tyler, who, gleeful over the locale of his final show with the Silver Jews, informed us that their performance was being shot on 16 mm film for a project that will hopefully be released sooner rather than later.

The crowd of roughly 450 hushed to barely a whisper as David Berman took the stage to introduce Kentucky's Arnett Hollow. After musing that witnessing a concert in a cave "really puts things in perspective for a minute," Berman cleared the stage to make way for Arnett Hollow's steady, loping brand of newgrass. The five-piece performed a solid set of tightly arranged songs, each containing the requisite amount of swift-fingered Louisville shredding. We grew slightly weary of AH's earnest pickin' and grinnin' toward the end of their set, but we reminded ourselves that Arnett Hollow was bringing the bluegrass, and it was Silver Jews who would be bringing the underground.

After the Jews filed out of what we determined to be a makeshift greenroom, Berman opened with a story of his long-past days as a ticket taker at a Loews theater in Texas and his subsequent--and, as he viewed it, unjust--termination. He then noted the serendipity he found in the fact that he was being lit by a massive chandelier rescued from an old Loews theater as a pipe organ from another Loews loomed at his back.

The Jews were certainly well-rehearsed, though the boomy and, well, cavernous acoustics made discerning Berman's guttural baritone rather difficult. Longtime Silver Jews and Pavement contributor Bob Nastanovich made a brief appearance, drumming on "Trains Across the Sea," the second tune of the Jews' set. The 15-song performance also featured backing vocals from Bobby Bare Jr. on "I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You," while Cassie Berman's vocals on "Suffering Jukebox" were spot-on and cut like no one else's all afternoon. We were somewhat saddened that we didn't hear "Punks in the Beerlight," but we saw it at Exit/In in November, and we'll admit that "Smith & Jones Forever" was probably the perfect choice to go out on.

Berman admitted at the close of the show that he "never made peace with the encore," and thus, we wouldn't be getting one. We were personally hoping, given our surroundings, that the whole thing might devolve into a Matrix Reloaded-style sweaty, sexy cave rave, but it never quite came to that. Instead, we merely took solace in Berman's words as we exited the cave. "I always wanted to go out on top," claimed the singer. "But I much prefer this."

Set list:

1) We Are Real

2) Trains Across the Sea

3) How to Rent a Room

4) Slow Education

5) K-Hole

6) What Is not but Could Be If

7) The Wild Kindness

8) Room Games

9) Suffering Jukebox

10) I'm Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You

11) Random Rules

12) Tennessee

13) We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing

14) Pretty Eyes

15) Smith & Jones Forever

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