WHO: Lord Huron featuring Calder Quartet, The Union Line and Milo Greene
Never have a headliner and their venue been a better fit in name. Ben Schneider, the Michigan-born singer-songwriter who began to record as musical alter ego Lord Huron just one year ago, plays the modern day troubadour as well as anyone in contemporary music. Though still unsigned, his two EPs, Into the Sun and Mighty, have earned rave reviews and a small but dedicated following no doubt increased by his SXSW performance and upcoming Lollapalooza appearance.
The group's worldbeat-inflected folk-rock sound immediately brings to mind many other artists both classic and contemporary (we'll resist listing them, as everyone else seems to want to do when discussing this artist). What sets the project apart is the level of their craft and the feeling of travel and discovery in the lyrics and sound. They opened their set with an as-yet-untitled new song, a lovely midtempo track that would be the perfect theme song for a late-night walk down an abandoned beach with a joint in hand.
"Into the Sun," the title track of the first EP, followed. A joyous Afro-pop tune with a percolating rhythm, the song's sound belies the subject matter of abandoning a stifling family and relationship: "You are exactly what I should want, but I don't want you," Schneider coos. He gets even blunter by the end of the song, declaring "I wouldn't survive one more day."
The tension between the bubbly musicianship and longing for escape in the lyrics reaches a zenith in "The Problem With Your Daughter." With a deceptively hypnotic melody standing in relief to the frustrating, potentially violent confrontation in the lyrics, the band shined on this nimble, chiming acoustic number
Schneider then introduced his special guests, the Calder Quartet. Having a string quartet to accompany a folk-rock artist can present issues for a live show. Besides the possibility coming off gimmicky, the strings could overwhelm the band's own instrumentation. Fortunately, the ensemble (now at nine musicians) managed to incorporate the new dimension seamlessly.
"The Stranger," which is getting love in the online music community, benefited from the added classical aspect. The song is at once driving and dreamlike, with Schneider's vocals taking on an almost incantatory quality. Ever the grateful performer, he thanked the crowd profusely for coming out to see his group wind up their tour.
On "When Will I See You Again," Schneider broke out his trusty sleigh bells to accent the loping melody, peals of reverb-laden guitar and rollicking hand percussion. The totality of the experience was like being on hand for a combination drum circle, chamber performance and Calypso street party. Guitarists Peter and Brett got to stretch out finally, trading licks and goofing around with some rock-god poses that delighted the crowd. Schneider, for his part, madly beat the head and sides of a single drum, shaking and shuddering around like Ian Curtis gone indie-beardy.
"This is a cover of a song by a guy named Bruce Springsteen," Schneider announced when the band returned for an encore. He began the Boss' classic tune "Nebraska," then stopped, cursing himself for messing up the beginning. He hesitated, started again and stopped a second time. "What the fuck?!?" he shouted, exasperated. The crowd, at first concerned, ended up highly amused. He finally got the notes and lyrics right, but while the acoustic nature and dark subject matter of the song fit Lord Huron's vibe, the cover did not have the same spark that the group clearly emits when performing Schneider's own tunes.
"Thanks for putting up with that one," he said, somewhat sheepishly. "Mighty," the title track of his second EP, followed, achieving a loud, sweeping grandeur in the live setting. African percussion, feedback-spiked electric guitar and Schneider's acoustic each took turns dominating the proceedings. Bassist/multi-instrumentalist Miguel even demonstrated his fine Theremin skills, adding a ghostly element to the musical amalgam. It was fine cap to the evening and a perfect summation of what makes Lord Huron such a mysteriously powerful force.
Openers Milo Greene proved a pleasant surprise. The group displayed an excellent musical rapport, switching off instruments and lead vocals on each track. They clearly put a lot of effort into their three- and four-part harmonies, which serve to brighten up their Fleetwood Mac-inspired boy/girl pop confections.
The Union Line's set did not come off so well. They have a strong sense of melody and interesting electronic accents, but the band fought mix problems and a general lack of inspired rock performance throughout the set. It was difficult to make out the vocals on most tracks, and there was an air of dissatisfaction within the band itself. "We have 32 more songs for you," Adam Sabolick joked at one point. Still, the Union Line managed to sort things out sonically by the end of their set, and they showed off some of what made them one of SoCal's more highly-touted bands of the late 2000s.
Read on for Lord Huron's setlist: