Balmorhea / Caroline Says @ Stateside at the Paramount (09.22.17)
Whenever the opportunity arises to catch local instrumentalists, Balmorhea as the 6-piece live incarnation of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller’s cathartic project, we at Austin Town Hall jump all over it. Friday night’s album release party at the fantastic Stateside at the Paramount Theater stage for the band’s enthralling sixth LP, Clear Language was no exception. Follow the jump for more on the show.
The fantastic local double bill put on by Margin Walker, did not disappoint. Opening the show was fellow Western Vinyl alums, Caroline Says. We’ve featured front lady Caroline Sallee’s solo project on the site as well, (in addition to her involvement with ATH Records own PollenRx) and they are just lovely with their warm dream pop vibes. Their relatively short and upbeat opening set was just the light appetizer the audience needed for the inevitable emotional waterfall to follow. Caroline and Co., touring in support of their youthful debut,50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, weaved in and out of their 1960s era beach induced guitar driven jams paired with Ms. Sallee’s delicate, yet penetrating voice. One of our favorite tracks off the album, I Think I’m Alone Now, sounded just as good on stage.
After a short break, KUTX’s own Laurie Gallardo lent her distinctive voice to introduce what many, including this reviewer, had been waiting for years. It’s been 5 years since Lowe and Muller’s last LP release, Stranger, and just under a year since the last show in ATX proper. From the fawning adoration of the audience, this absence has surely only made hearts grow fonder. As she so appropriately stated, what we’ve become so accustomed to seeing from the band is simply “Poetry in Motion”. Their latest LP venture is so tightly knit and cohesive a release, instantly making it one of my favorites of the year after only a couple spins. What we have grown to love about Balmorhea is instantly apparent, but it carries a heavy maturation of tenderness and concern, with a spotlight’s focus on interconnectedness and hope.
Touring once again as a six-Piece, Lowe featured heavily on piano and guitar on occasion, while Muller featured mainly on lead guitar. The enchanting Aisha Burns on violin, along with Nick Soberon on cello, Sam Pankey on bass, and Jeff Olson on vibraphone/percussion. Though the band’s membership has changed throughout the year, the results are always the same. The opening track of the evening, the stunning title track and opening number, “Clear Language“, with its echoing staccato piano drew the audience in, followed by strings cascading down from the rafters.
Balmorhea played a heavy mix of songs from their extensive discography, but highlighted their most recent release as you would expect from a release party. Sky Could Undressfollowed the opener, another new track featuring a drum track alongside seductive guitar picking in a West Coast-esque vibe. Masollan from their 2012 release Stranger followed that which features trademark use of their slow, buildup style of song crafting, intricate and thoughtful guitar work paired perfectly with a background atmosphere of strings. Moving slowly and methodically from song to song, The Summer and Baleen Morning followed from River Arms. It was nice to see them harken back to their earlier releases performed through the lens of their most recent. A maturity and growing confidence in Lowe and Muller was apparent. More self-assure and not afraid to take risks. Early tracks could be easily described as hinging on individuality and the balance of hope and melancholy, but Clear Language is clearly about togetherness and finding joy in the subtle, fleeting moments in our world.
Behind the World, next up from Clear Language with a brooding drum track alongside interludes of lingering piano and electronic finger drum pad, certainly one of my favorites off the new album. Picture yourself riding a train through Europe to this track. After Jubi, another from Stranger, and one my personal favorite Balmorhea tracks followed, Bowsprit, from 2010’s Constellations, with Muller on Banjo amid lofty string melody creating a rich tapestry of sound. This is still an album I turn back to time and again when I need that respite from the world around me. First Light, the closing track on Clear Language finished the set with a dedication to Western Vinyl containing minimal guitar and organ paired so delicately.
After a very short break following the first of 2 standing ovations, Low returned solo for Waiting Itself, a gorgeously penned piano modern classical track, weaving between delicate and intense like a Texas summer thunderstorm. Muller, Sam Pankey, and Olson joined Lowe back on stage for the expressive and building organ feature On the Weight of Night, once again from Constellations, and one of the heavier hitting tracks in their discography to emphatically signify the beginning of the end. The final track of the evening was the only from the brilliant 2009 release, All Is Wild All Is Silent, and given our current state of “Fake News”, Truth was never a more fitting night cap. If there’s one thing that we have come to know about Balmorhea, they can tell us about ourselves in the most compelling of narratives. Emotion can draw from both wells in our human psyche, the tragic and the comedic. That narrative can simultaneously align, like a flipped coin landing on it’s edge. We don’t quite understand why we cry, whether from tears of joy or tears of sadness. But somehow it doesn’t matter. It’s just that gift of truth and relentless sincerity that makes us continue to tune in.
It’s no secret over the years that Balmorhea have a been an overwhelmingly consistent favorite here at ATH. A simple search of the archives will show pretty clearly that we think this band has been something special in and for the Austin music scene for years. (It certainly doesn’t hurt there’s maybe just a shade of a ElementarySchool crush on Aisha Buns by our man Nathan. No shame Nate, she’s positively captivating.) We continue to marvel at the sheer talent of this group and share our pride in our collective calling Austin our home. “In a way we feel like true Austinites” humbly stated by Balmorhea guitarist Michael Muller, “this band wouldn’t be here if not for this City.” In that case, we all owe a debt of gratitude to this great, vibrant City.
- Clear Language
- Sky Could Undress
- The Summer
- Baleen Morning
- Behind the World
- Night Squall
- First Light
- E:Waiting Itself (Lowe)
- E:On The Weight of Night