Shearwater Shows Range

November 15th, 2010

Shearwater – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Novermber 12, 2010

At the risk of oversimplifying, theatrical is perhaps the easiest adjective to use when classifying Shearwater’s sound. During their show at Music Hall of Williamsburg last Friday night, the Austin, Texas, band’s music at times recalled old-world folk dirges, shredding, intense guitar rock and ambient Sigur Rós-inspired soundscapes. Throughout these wide-ranging styles, frontman Jonathan Meiburg’s voice served as the through line, ricocheting from lilting falsetto to sinister whisper depending on the song.

As Meiburg led the band through the set—new and old material from their extensive catalog—with a hypnotic sense of sincerity and conviction, it became clear that the sense of drama conjured by Shearwater is in no way mere affectation. The set list highlighted the band’s range as well. The fast-paced “Corridors” cast Meiburg as a demented square-dance caller, while “White Waves” was delicate and yearning, a perfectly eerie folk ballad. Songs from Shearwater’s most recent album, The Golden Archipelago, like “Castaways” and “God Made Me,” were rich and fully realized with help from a two-piece string section; and flourishes of trumpet, vibraphone, maracas and tambourine punctuated the set.

Toward the end of the show, Meiburg provided what might be the best description of Shearwater’s sound. Following a rousing version of the moody number “Home Life,” he joked, “People always ask, ‘What kind of music do you play?’ And we’re like, ‘Well….’” As we laughed appreciatively, the band began to play the soft opening chords of “I Was a Cloud,” leaving us to contemplate the many ways to fill in the blank as the song floated over us. —Alena Kastin