Friday, September 16, 2011

Sounds: The Low Anthem and William Elliott Whitmore


I am not 18 anymore.
Shocker, right? I usually love the fact that people think I am way younger than I really am, but some days it really hits me. I am old.

These days usually come in the form of weekday shows, shows as in going to see bands plays. I always feel awkward calling them concerts. It’s not like I am going to see Barry Manilow.

This week I went and saw Barry Manilow. Just kidding, I went and saw William Elliott Whitmore and The Low Anthem at the 9:30 Club in DC.

For downtown shows during the week, I will usually just stay at work late and then take the train to the venue.  I will have to admit there is something wonderfully freeing about changing out the ill-fitting business suit and into jeans and a t-shirt in the work restroom. It is like stripping off a costume and coming back to my true self.

But sometimes my true self is a little tired, especially after a 10 hour day. I was dragging yesterday and wondering if I was really in the mood for mellow folk music.

Then Mr. Whitmore came on stage, and the answer was yes. Yes, this is exactly the type of music that I needed.

William Elliott Whitmore
I have mentioned William Elliott Whitmore before and will probably keep mentioning him. He is singer/songwriter from Iowa that has this wonderful protesting the man/big tent revival preacher quality to him. He sings with such passion and pain, that more than once the entire room was moved to silence.   It is just him up there, alone with his banjo, guitar and a drum and a kick petal. And he sings with his eyes close.  This, yes, does cut down on your ability to do complicated choreography, but it also displays this feeling that you are spilling your entire soul out there on stage.  After every couple songs, he we would stop, stand up, and go to the audience and shake a couple hands, ask how we were doing and take song requests. There are benefits to going to small shows.


It was definitely a hipster crowd. Without joking even a little bit, half the crowd was in skinny jeans and plaid shirts. It was a little odd, like a weird hipster alien invasion.  Between sets I couldn’t help but listen in on the conversation of the couple standing behind me.  It was obviously their first date, which was a little sweet in that awkward kind of way, until they started talking about the death penalty. I know that this is DC and everyone wants to prove how much of a wonk they are, but c’mon. Don’t talk about the death penalty on the first date. Really. Don't do it.  It can only lead to yelling. Which is did last night; good thing the house music was really loud.

The Low Anthem
The Low Anthem is a band from Rhode Island and their music is just beautiful. I don’t understand why this show didn’t sell out.  I am having a hard time describing their music, without using the word beautiful again, so let’s go with indie folk.  Imagine yourself lying in the grass in a field of wildflowers by a stream, looking up at the stars at night. Yeah, I would go with that too. They have toured with both Mumford & Sons,The Avett Brothers and Iron & Wine,  as well as graced the stages of many of the world best music festivals such as Bonnaroo and Glastonbury.


The four piece band rotates among a variety of instruments, and I do mean a variety: acoustic and electric guitars, stand-up bass, electric bass, banjo, clarinet, horns, dulcimer, keyboard, drums, harmonica, and even a saw. Yep, as in I am going to cut down a tree, saw.  There were a couple of instruments that I still have no idea what they were. But I love the idea that you can make music, beautiful music out of almost everything.  Ben, the lead vocalist has amazing range, from super high, to a Tom Waits growl.


A few weeks ago, the band released a statement that after the current tour they are going to take a long break while releasing 2 new albums. There was also the implication that after this tour and new albums, they aren’t going to be playing any of the old stuff. For this reason alone, I am glad that I went to the show. They played a long set with all the songs being in chronological order.  We all waited with baited breathe for the song, “This G-d Damn House.” At the end of the song, with instruction from the band, everyone in the room calls some else in the room on their cell phone on speakerphone. The feedback between all the phones creates this effect that sounds almost like crickets chirping. I made a recording of it last night, but couldn't upload it, so here is another recording. It is the entire song, the chirping starts about minute 4. At first it sounds pretty Star Treky, but wait for it, it is pretty wild to hear live.

I had to leave before the end of their encore to catch the last train home. It always amazes me the large amount of people still on the subway after midnight. Where are all these people coming from, where are they going?

So here is to a great show. The next day, in a sleep deprived daze trying to type memos and fill in spreadsheets, the faded remains of the club stamp on my hand was a happy reminder of a life outside of the office.

It made me feel 18 again. Or, maybe 21.

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