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Live Review: All-Star Tribute to Gene Clark at Floristree

January 24, 2014

nootherAfter last year’s gig at the Lyric, we didn’t think we’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, “At first, the overdone, studio nature of the album feels overbearing… 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.” That’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 there’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: Matar’s soft sliding notes, Strohmeier’s little volume-knob twiddling guitar fade-ins on songs like “Silver Raven,” 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 hadn’t decided to resurrect it.

Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes took the stage and began to sing “Life’s Greatest Fool.” His wavering vocals, blending from high to low, created huge spaces in the songs that the backup singers’ harmonies pour through. When he sang, “That too much loneliness makes you grow cold,” it felt anything but cold.

Each song’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 Clark’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: “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” by the Byrds, Clark’s “Hear The Wind,” and “Eight Miles High,” also by The Byrds, the latter ending with a guitar solo that blew out everyone’s ears. During these, the main vocalists all shifted places and sang together, and Legrand took “Hear The Wind” with her signature smoky voice piercing with the melancholy. It was a great ending.

These musicians’ love for Gene Clark was apparent. The time that they spent arranging and rehearsing their pieces shows in little things like Antanaitis’s subtle slide guitar texture or Scally’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 wasn’t even the first show—the first was played in Philly, and tonight they’ll be in D.C., and tomorrow they’ll take the show to New York.

Check out our gallery of the show here.

  • John Cheek

    hard to replicate Jesse Ed Davis’s slide work on this album. I have several copies of this lp

  • Attorney Matthews Bark Orlando

    With this run of four Gene Clark tribute shows, including dates in Washington, Philadelphia and Brooklyn, Beach House hopes to grow appreciation for “No Other,” an overlooked gem. They’ve brought together an impressive cast to handle Clark’s vocals: Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen, Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes, Daniel Rossen of Grizzly Bear and Iain Matthews of Plainsong/Fairport Convention.

  • bholler

    What the internet is best for:

    I was bummed to miss this show, so was checking out the album on Grooveshark. The following was posted throughout the comments section (too many characters to fit in one post!). Google Translating from spanish gives it an even more flourished tone. This guy really cares about Gene f*ing Clark.

    Gene supo manejarse como director musical en un proyecto tan complejo, “White Light” muestra las canciones limpias de polvo y paja, en su esencia, incluso muestra su esqueleto, ya que algunas canciones parecen ser simples esbozos. Ya en sus canciones para los Byrds habĂ­a mostrado una sutileza inusitada en una persona tan joven. Si bien en los Byrds esa profundidad era mesurada por el empuje juvenil y animoso del conjunto. En solitario, Gene Clark suena más triste, menos enĂ©rgico, más desolado

    Esa desnudez le sienta bien, ya que sus construcciones armónicas y melódicas poseen unos cambios muy sutiles, como si se mostrase inspirado por los impresionistas franceses. No quiero decir que Gene Clark estuviera influido por Ravel o Debussy o que participase de sus complejas estructuras, pero por alejados que parezcan estar entre sí, tanto Clark como los músicos franceses, muestran una actitud hacia la melodía similar en sus propósitos (más que en su parecido formal): solo hacen caso a su instinto y a su oído.

    En este disco la sutileza de Clark es aun más extrema, lo que nos pide también mayor esfuerzo al oyente. Puede parecer monótono en primeras escuchas, pero si nos internamos en el prestando la debida atención, la recompensa valdrá la pena. La exhibición sentimental (que no lastimera ni empalagosa) del cantante, es conmovedora y valiente. De esas que demuestran que la fuerza y la sensibilidad no pueden, sino que, tienen que ir unidas de la mano. En este disco producido por el fenomenal guitarrista nativo americano, Jesse Davis que interpreta las guitarras eléctricas del disco (las acústicas son de Gene), podemos encontrar básicamente folk y country, sin saber dónde termina uno y empieza el otro.

    Esta ediciĂłn del 2002 contiene varios extras. Una deliciosa versiĂłn acĂşstica del clásico “Stand by me” de Leiber y Stoller para Ben E. King, dotándolo de aroma campestre (e incluso de unos bongos hippies), la Ăşnica versiĂłn del álbum junto al “Tears of rage” de Dylan (pero está incluida en el material original del álbum), una mezcla distinta de “Because of you” y tres canciones inĂ©ditas.En definitiva, uno de los grandes discos de Gene Clark en solitario. Aunque a mi parecer, a pesar de la gran altura que rozo en su carrera a solas, jamás volviĂł a encontrar la magia que sus compañeros en los Byrds sacaban de sus canciones. Es un tĂłpico, pero es tambiĂ©n una tremenda realidad que dos personas (o cinco, como era el caso) trabaja

  • dougstevenson

    So when was this show? The only clue is that it was at night. Daniel Pope? Anyone?