(Photos by Timothy Norris. View more photos in the Department of Eagles slideshow.)
This was supposed to be the weekend that New York took over da clubs with its uniquely American sounds. The Animal Collective was gigging two sold out shows on Friday and Saturday, and Department of Eagles and the Cave Singers (who are from Seattle, actually) were playing their own sold out date on Saturday. But as anyone who cares about such things knows, Animal Collective's Avey Tare got very very sick and the band had to cancel both its shows (which probably boosted attendance at the Tapes n Tapes show at the El Rey on Saturday), so it was left to DoE and CS to deliver our odd-indie sustenance.
The Cave Singers are one of those bands that's HUGE in an alternate universe, an American music outfit that could hold its own in a campfire circle throwdown with Bon Iver, Iron & Wine and the Fleet Foxes. Its 2007 debut, Invitation Songs, mixes old, weird Americana with finger-picked acoustic guitars, little dashes of electronics and the high lonesome tone of lead singer Pete Quirk. They are the perfect Troubadour band in that they honor tradition while forcefully pushing at its outer edges. Plus they write really good songs and made one of last year's best videos.
The band was received warmly, though no one in the crowd did any sort of snake handling. Rather, they were all waiting for the Eagles, and that voice. I don't know what it is about Daniel Rossen's vocal cords, but given the right circumstances and the proper candlelight, they could probably woo me into his arms — and I'm not even gay. It's one of those voices that delivers not only the pitch-perfect note, but a host of subtle overtones that spring from his diaphragm and seem to gather a little bit of dust along the way. You hear it and it's just so pleasing. Yes, it's a tad precious, as writer Kevin Bronson observed during the show (though with saltier, less-minced words), but then, this isn't rock & roll music, it's baroque pop, mixed with a touch of the west coast sound and a warmth of feeling.
The crowd, they loved it. I liked it, too, though it didn't move me the way that Grizzly Bear, Rossen's primary band, did at the Disney this spring. In fact, Dept. of Eagles did one thing that bothered me a little. My favorite song right now is “No One Does It Like You,” the band's totally classic Wall-of-Sound ditty, and I'm not the only one. In another alternate universe, the song would be number one on the pop charts right now. Department of Eagles played the song, but totally changed the arrangement, turned it into an entirely different song, and as a result the crowd, eagerly waiting to sing along, was left trying to find the original buried inside the new one. Now, I'm no stickler; I totally love it when bands find new things inside the old. But “No One” isn't old. It's new. And we want to hear it the way you played it on the record. In a few years, when the song has attained classic status, you're welcome to fiddle with it. But give us at least one chance to hear the song the way you recorded it.
But that's a minor complaint. It was a beautiful show, filled with harmonies and hummable moments galore.