Live Review: All-Star Tribute to Gene Clark at Floristree
After last yearâ€™s gig at the Lyric, we didnâ€™t think weâ€™d ever see Beach House perform in a warehouse space like Floristree again, so we were psyched when they announced a show there, part of a small tour with musicians from Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Lower Dens, Celebration, Wye Oak, and more.
They had all come together to pay tribute to Gene Clark, of the Byrds. Clark released his album No Other in 1974, and it was a total flop. The record label, Asylum, lost all sorts of money on it, and dropped it completely from their catalog in 1976. Yet Clark always considered it his masterpiece, and since then, many others have come to concur. Beach House happens to love it. According to their press release, â€śAt first, the overdone, studio nature of the album feels overbearingâ€¦ However, with more listens, Gene Clark’s very unique lyrics, voice and spirit become the central focus. It’s one of those records where each time you listen, you love a different song the most.â€ť Thatâ€™s why all of these high-caliber musicians got together to tour and play the album in its entirety.
At the beginning of the night, they projected a few minutes of a documentary about Clark, The Byrd Who Flew Alone. Perhaps it was meant to paint a more complete picture of Clark, make him more of a presence, so that they could jump into his music fluidly. Then the screen rose and the musicians took their places.
On backup vocals thereâ€™s Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak), Victoria Legrand (Beach House), and Cricket Arrison. Behind them: Mike Lowry (Mt. Royal) on drums, Sean Antanaitis (Celebration) on organs, synth, and guitar, Dominic Matar (Carloman) on piano (apparently the only non-Baltimore-area resident of the backup band), Geoff Graham (Lower Dens) on acoustic, Walker Teret (Celebration) on acoustic lead, Stephen Strohmeier (Chris Cohen, Cass McCombs, Beach House) on lead guitar, Alex Scally (Beach House) on bass, and Tony Drummond (Celebration) on backup vocals and, sometimes, bongos. The sheer size of the backup band reflected the grand production of the album, full of baroque harmonies and ample overdubs: Matarâ€™s soft sliding notes, Strohmeierâ€™s little volume-knob twiddling guitar fade-ins on songs like â€śSilver Raven,â€ť the precise vocal backdrops of Wasner, Legrand, and Arrison. The fact is, not a lot of people (myself included) would have heard of, let alone listened to, the album No Other if this coalition hadnâ€™t decided to resurrect it.
Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes took the stage and began to sing â€śLifeâ€™s Greatest Fool.â€ť His wavering vocals, blending from high to low, created huge spaces in the songs that the backup singersâ€™ harmonies pour through. When he sang, â€śThat too much loneliness makes you grow cold,â€ť it felt anything but cold.
Each songâ€™s main vocal line was sung by one of four singers: Pecknold, Daniel Rossen (Grizzly Bear), Iain Matthews (Plainsong, Fairport Convention), or Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen). Each singer seemed to take one aspect of Clarkâ€™s voice and develop it: Rossen the idiosyncratic nasally tone, Leithauser the sharp, folky tone, Pecknold the vibrating vocal dynamics, and Matthews the lilting cadence of the countryish tunes.
On top of that, the layering of the backup musicians fit together like puzzle pieces, and every song was performed tightly – not a note was out of place in these arrangements. Even the tempos seemed exact. The audience were rapt in a unique moment, as if they were listening to the album and living in it at the same time. After performing the album, they played three more songs: â€śIâ€™ll Feel A Whole Lot Betterâ€ť by the Byrds, Clarkâ€™s â€śHear The Wind,â€ť and â€śEight Miles High,â€ť also by The Byrds, the latter ending with a guitar solo that blew out everyoneâ€™s ears. During these, the main vocalists all shifted places and sang together, and Legrand took â€śHear The Windâ€ť with her signature smoky voice piercing with the melancholy. It was a great ending.
These musiciansâ€™ love for Gene Clark was apparent. The time that they spent arranging and rehearsing their pieces shows in little things like Antanaitisâ€™s subtle slide guitar texture or Scallyâ€™s organic walking bass. Beyond the joy of actually seeing it, we remembered why the show excited us in the first place: These guys are pros. Legrand took the mic at the end and introduced the whole band, pointing out that almost everyone was local. She said what everyone at the show was thinking: This could only have happened in Baltimore.
Except that this wasnâ€™t even the first showâ€”the first was played in Philly, and tonight theyâ€™ll be in D.C., and tomorrow they’ll take the show to New York.
Check out our gallery of the show here.