After getting our asses kicked by Monotonix last weekend, we were looking for something a little more chilled out and a little less likely to dangle from the balcony and steal our beer, and Sea Wolf's return to Nashville with fellow folk-rockers Port O'Brien and Sara Lov at Exit/In on Saturday was as close as we could get without going to The Bluebird.
In true Spin fashion, we arrived just in time to see opener Sara Lov say good night and hear R. Kelly fade in over the P.A. as she started to break down her gear. It wasn't exactly what we expected to hear before a band that essentially takes some of the good parts of Modest Mouse and plays them with acoustic instruments. That is, until we realized that we had stepped into a jackpot of hipster stereotypes: Ironic Top 40 music? Check. A girl with a Polaroid camera flinging photos at the bands? Check. Someone double-fisting liquor and a latte from Café Coco? You got it. Beards? Do you even need to ask? Some asshole scribbling in a Moleskine journal? Uh, yeah. That may or may not have been us. (Spin for the win?)
Port O'Brien took the stage as the Black Eyed Peas' latest crime against art, "Boom Boom Pow," was ending, and turned in a surprisingly entertaining set of enthusiastic, psyched-out folk-rock. The L.A. band pulled most of their setlist from their recent release Threadbare, an album that dispensed with the nautical obsession of their first two albums in favor of a spookier, more atmospheric sound. Or, at least, that's how it sounds on the album. Live, the feeling was completely different. On the title track, singer/banjo player Cambria Goodwin sings a couple of sweet, lilting verses before the whole thing plunges into a folk wall of sound experiment.
We are suckers for well-executed crowd-participation--not the "We can't hear you screaming at the top of your lungs for more" arena rock bullshit, but actually engaging the audience. Port O'Brien asked the crowd to pull battered pots and pans out of a box near the stage to wail on for their last song, and because they had built a lot of good will by being charmingly self-deprecating throughout their set, people actually uncrossed their arms, put down their drinks and banged along like they were six years old. That's a hell of a feat, considering this is Nashville we're talking about.
Sea Wolf took the stage around 11 p.m. for a surprise-free set of folk jams. Aside from a few technical problems (the band circling back to pick up a false-started verse or the occasional feedback screech) their live set more or less sounded exactly like their recorded material--complete with wind organ on "Winter Windows" and a small tack piano. Alex Church & Co. blew through most of their recent White Water, White Bloom, including Church performing "Orion & Dog" by himself during the encore. A few tracks off Leaves in the River ("Black Leaf Falls" and "Black Dirt") and one from the EP also found their way into the set, but no sight of their painfully mediocre Twilight song.
By the end of the night, we were pretty well contented. No, Sea Wolf didn't blow our minds with rock 'n' roll antics, but they did put on a live performance that was enjoyable in a vaguely inoffensive way. Sea Wolf manages to play intimately narrative folk music without being swallowed up in narcissism like so many Saddle Creek bands of similar stock. That said, if we could splice the entertainment value of Port O'Brien with the earnest folk savvy of Sea Wolf, that's a band we'd pay to see over and over again.