Photos by Nicole Browner
This is San Francisco — let’s talk about conversions. On Saturday night, the Texas-based theatrical gloom pop of Shearwater converted absolutely everyone in Bottom of the Hill into drooling, slack-jawed holy-shit-that-guy-can-sing Shearwater devotees. On stage, lead singer and songwriter Jonathan Meiburg’s shaggy blonde hair, easy smile, and glassy-smooth baritone voice contrasted perfectly with the band’s startlingly urgent live show. I was sold.
Pulling primarily from their 2012 LP, Animal Joy, the band played with a crisp sound and a focused scowl, allowing the album’s dark atmospherics to seethe into Meiburg’s theatrical singing. Throughout the set, Meiburg gave the audience plenty to remember, whether that meant holding a full-throated note for twice as long as on the album, taking breaks to explain the significance of Hulk Hogan’s little known “I Want To Be A Hulkamaniac,” or announcing the cancellation of Xiu Xiu’s planned SF February date. Which brings me to Saturday night’s late-set highlight, the band’s thundering cover of Xiu Xiu’s “I Luv The Valley OH!” Compared to the album recording from their cover LP Fellow Travelers, the live version brought a much needed intensity, allowing Meiburg to begin to match Jamie Stewart’s tenuous emotional power with his own polished choir boy voice.
Like Stewart, Meiburg has a tendency to oversing. Fortunately, it’s performance not pretentiousness and serves as a welcome reminder of why we’re all going to see music live in the first place: to feel it. No one can say that Shearwater don’t possess that confidence, that impulse to lean back and empty your lungs because you never know when you might get to sing again.
Openers Jesca Hoop and Bay Area-based Cazadero didn’t match Shearwater’s muscular force but proved a pleasant segue anyway. Hoop — who I just learned last night typically records songs with drum beats and glitchy electronics — played with only a guitar, gently plucking no more than two notes while singing her flighty, freak-folk-ish melodies. After her set, she joined Shearwater on stage for backing vocals and instrumentation. Cazadero relaxed into their alt-country down home rock to start the night, laying a tranquil foundation that allowed Shearwater to burst onto the stage and sell us on a unique marriage of soaring vocals and shadowy instrumentation.