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Sea Wolf w/ Port O’Brien @ Mad Planet

Sept. 30, 2009

Oct. 6, 2009
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If the ’90s were all about sludgy zone-outs, and the early ’00s about emo confessionals, the late ’00s have been devoted to sweeping and swirling multi-instrumented folk-pop as a means of emotional purging for the kids, running a cross between the folky ’60s and a baroque string quartet; an odd, but familiarly comforting outlet. Milwaukee’s youth showed its appreciation for this new breed of baroque pop as it welcomed Los Angeles’ Sea Wolf to the Mad Planet last Wednesday.

Openers Port O’Brien, a four piece from California, adhered also to this neo-folk style, yet added a bit of Neil Young-ish croon and twang to their more hushed moments and a bit of the shout and swagger of Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock to their louder moments, compliments of vocalist Van Pierszalowski. They included the exuberant and slightly rowdy crowd in on their closing song by pulling out a box of various pots, pans, plates, cutlery and other audio din-makers, inviting everyone to clang and bang along to their final song, “I Woke Up Today.”

The jumpy crowd bounced right into Sea Wolf’s set. As guitarist/singer Alex Brown Church took the stage with his mates in tow, they cheered and cajoled the group into their first song, a new track from their just-released album, White Water, White Bloom. “Turn the Dirt Over,” a melancholy slow-burner, settled the audience into the finely tuned composition and storytelling, acoustic guitar fronted steps Church was taking. The second song, “Winter Windows”, off the band’s premier release, Leaves in the River, demonstrated the lively, orchestral qualities of the group, as cellist Joyce Lee and pianist Lisa Fendelander kicked in the flourishes. “You’re awesome!” a girl in the audience yelled at Lee, jumping up and down with excitement. Lee, looking slightly embarrassed, smiled and shifted on her chair, but straight-faced it for the band’s next poignant narration “Middle Distance Runner.” The cello hummed and cried as Church sang in his quavery tenor, “So won’t you run to me tonight / do not pretend that we’re just lovers / but I’ll only ever be a middle distance runner.”

Being their first Milwaukee performance, it was hard to guess what direction Sea Wolf would take, especially with a brand new release, but the band knew well enough to throw in some of the livelier tracks from their first album, and kept the energetic audience on their toes with a couple subdued moments in between. When the band dug into “Song for the Dead,” bassist Theodore Liscinski, caught up in the crowd’s admiring vocalizations, yelled, “Now that’s glock n’ roll,” referring to the glockenspiel sounds Fendelander sprinkled in like glitter on her Nord Wave to lighten up the otherwise morbid ballad.

For the encore Church, who had popped a couple strings on his acoustic, sufficed his solo of “Orion & Dog” with an electric guitar, commenting that it was the first time that he’d ever attempted the song electric. Fumbling a bit, but soldiering on, Church invited the rest of his band mates back onto the stage for a final farewell of their best-known song, “You’re a Wolf,” which capped their near-perfect performance.


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