The Staves/Escondido – Mercury Lounge – May 17, 2013
Late night at Mercury Lounge on Friday found the room sold out for two great sets of roots music. First, Escondido, a country duo from Nashville, began with a handful of nice, pretty country songs ably handled by Jessica Maros and Tyler James and backed by James’s brother on bass and keys. Both members looked resplendent in amazing retro all-white suits, James’s with silver metal buckles and trimming, and Maros’s a full white country-and-western jumpsuit with two-foot tassels lining the sleeves. Halfway through, the music caught up with the duds, “Rodeo Queen” being a minor-key highlight. After a short trumpet-and-guitar interlude of “Tennessee Waltz,” Escondido were joined by a full band of NYC ringers, including Scott Metzger on guitar and Tony Leone on drums. With the extra oomph, the band went “full Nashville” with songs like “Don’t Love Me Too Much.”
Between sets, Neil Young’s entire Harvest Moon played over the PA, and the headliners took the stage to “Walk On”—off another Young album, On the Beach—which may have been the best walking-on music I’ve witnessed in a while. The Staves, a trio of sisters from Watford, England, singing folk harmonies very much in the style of Crosby, Stills & Nash, but better looking and with just the right level of sardonic British wit. (My favorite line, regarding the show not starting until after midnight: “…had to be careful not to get smashed beforehand.”) Singing songs like “Gone Tomorrow” and “Icarus” with just a single acoustic guitar, the beautiful harmonies seemed to shock the audience to silence. Bass and drums joined in to heft up songs like “The Motherlode” and “Tongue Behind My Teeth” (“about someone we hate”).
The dynamic range of the music was awe-inspiring: from a single voice, to three-part harmonies overlapping with acoustic guitar, to getting loud with the full band and additional banging on a floor tom. As the set continued, the Staves loosened up with banter about the playful comedy of three sisters spending life together on the road. The best was saved for last, the Staveley-Taylor sisters around a single microphone singing “Wisely & Slow” in absolute gorgeous harmony before the song transformed into a rocking section with drums and handclaps. The encore featured the first song they’d written together, when they only knew the bottom two strings of the guitar, the title track of Dead & Born & Grown, before finishing with the last song on that album, “Eagle Song.” The latter tune used all six strings and featured a dreamy middle section, literally a pitch-perfect ending to a night filled with them. —A. Stein