Friday, October 17, 2008

Shearwater--The Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center, Washington, DC

Austin-based Shearwater was recently in town to play at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. I had never attended a Millennium Stage show, but knew that every day there was a free show of some kind at 6pm. I called up the ticket office just to inquire as to whether it was necessary to secure a ticket of some kind. The lady on the line asked me what show I wanted to attend. I told her Shearwater. She hit a few buttons on her computer, and came back and said, “Shearwater…Wednesday night…$43.50.” $43.50? I thought this joint was supposed to be free. I told her thanks but no thanks (may have cursed into the phone), and then hung up. I’m not paying $43.50 for a band I could see at the Black Cat for $15. I don’t care if they’re playing at the Sistine Chapel.

The next day was the day of the show, but I had long forgotten about it. I ran into an acquaintance and she asked me if I had any shows coming up. I told her I had planned on seeing Shearwater at the Kennedy Center that night but the tickets were too expensive. She replied, “Uhh, those shows are free.” Hmmm. I again called the Kennedy Center. Sure enough, free show. Here’s what happened. That night there was also a performance of the long-running play Shear Madness in the main concert hall and tickets were, of course, $43.50. The lady on the phone had been confused. This is not the first time this has happened to me. One time in Chicago I tried to see Les Savy Fav, next thing I know I'm at the Oriental Theater watching a bunch of people with French accents singing about some dude named Jean Valjean.

I arrived at the Kennedy Center about forty-five minutes early and watched the band go through sound check. I walked around and took in the beauty of the Kennedy Center. Both outside and in. If you look out the grand windows to the west, you see the Potomac River and surrounding forest area. For all its concrete, DC really is a gorgeous town. Inside the marble building, the halls are lined with a magnificent bust of JFK and other historical pieces of art. Also, if you arrive at the Center before 6pm, drinks are half-priced. Warrants mentioning.

While walking around, I noticed signs all over the Center proudly showing that the Millennium Stage performances are sponsored by Target and Fannie Mae. Well, that’s not quite as bad as the My Morning Jacket show I saw last month at DAR Constitutional Hall that was brought to us by Home Depot and OJ Simpson, but close.

Approaching show time, I took a seat right behind an elderly couple. When the band came out on stage, the older lady pointed at Jonathan Meiburg and whispered to her husband, “Ooh, I wonder if he’s the guilty one?!” (I think they were supposed to be at the Shear Madness show.)

Shearwater is now a five-piece. Minus Story’s Jordan Geiger has joined the band as a multi-instrumentalist. Sounds good to me. With Meiburg sitting at the piano, the band laid into an incredibly stirring rendition of “On The Death Of The Waters”, opening track from this year’s Rook. That pretty much set the tone for the evening, too. I don’t recall the band straying from Rook or Palo Santo. And they were kind enough to hit two of my favorites, “Red Sea, Black Sea” and “Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five”, both from the incredible aforementioned Palo Santo.

I don’t think this band will ever be able to strike a chord with the masses like some of their Matador mates, but they probably know that and are fine with it. Their music is just too majestic, and Meiburg’s voice is sometimes too powerful for their own good. Nevertheless, the overflowing talent is obvious, and they are a fun band to watch.

Speaking of which, now would be as good as time as any to mention how much Shearwater drummer, Thor Harris, looks like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. (For those who aren’t old enough, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer was a reoccurring character on Saturday Night Live from the early '90s when the show was still funny.) Really, he does. The resemblance is equally hilarious and uncanny. And while we’re at it, Meiburg may or may not be one of the Weasley twins.

Shearwater played for about 50 minutes, thanked the quiet and polite crowd throughout, and called it an early evening. I really enjoyed watching how the crowd reacted to the band. Clearly a portion of the audience was Millennium Stage regulars and had not the first clue who Shearwater was. And that’s one of the great aspects of these performances. There is a free show every day of the year from an eclectic range of performers. (I think I saw that a Boy Scout choir is singing next week or something.) The Kennedy Center really espouses the importance of art, and makes it accessible to those who don't have the stature or wealth of an actual Kennedy. Well done. I think we all owe Fannie Mae a great deal of gratitude, don't you?


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