Amy Millan/Bahamas @ The Triple Door, Seattle, WA 10.25.09
For two seconds, let me gush on how flippin' great the Triple Door is; nice staff, great sound, swank atmosphere, strong drinks, amazing sightlines, and entirely way-too-nice-for-a-rock-show atmosphere all combine to make an incomparable, unforgettable evening, regardless of who is performing. I half expected a bathroom attendant to be waiting, handing out complimentary limited edition 7"s and letterpressed zines along with peppermints and Purell.
That said, the all-encompassing opulence thing can be a little stuffy and awkward for the band who isn't used to providing a dinner soundtrack.
Toronto's Bahamas took the stage and immediately addressed the awkward situation of being the "soundtrack to green curry" and how weird it was to jump from playing night clubs full of PBR to essentially playing a palace. It can be a little jarring for both band and fan alike to feel out of one's comfort zone. However, thanks to a lovely mustache, some hilariously self-deprecating stage banter, and some incredible songwriting and equally impressive guitar playing, Afie Jurvanen (the man behind Bahamas, and sideman to a lot of notable Canadian acts, most prominent being Feist) had the crowd eating their Pan-Asian cuisine out of the palm of his hand. Accompanied by Weakerthans drummer Jason Tait (who may very well be one of the most tasteful drummers I've ever seen), Jurvanen knew he had an uphill battle, and spent a good portion of the time goofing around with the crowd about everything, including his sounds, being "nice". There was no false advertising in this; his old Silvertone guitar played through a tiny Fender amp had just the right amount of smooth, soothing warmth to it as he sang, and when Jurvanen went into overdrive mode, he hit no distortion pedals, but just played the shit out of his guitar, getting just the right amount of fuzz and growl out of it. His voice (like a smoother, more well adjusted Bill Callahan of Smog) was buttery at times, vulnerable and exposed in all the right places but warm and friendly. Backed up by Tait's subtle drumming, the band made the whole place feel comfortable and casual, easily flowing through a set of 10 or so songs before closing out with a pretty epic cover of Prince's "Purple Rain", complete with audience participation. I was pretty floored.
Amy Millan came out and was every bit as casual and laid back as Bahamas; accompanied by Dan Whiteley (guitar/mandolin) and Doug Tielli (banjo/trombone/keyboard), the trio went into an acapella number that was deeply entrenched in the gospel/spirituals of the American South. While the mix wasn't perfect on the song, the intent itself was. Amy Millan's work with indie-luminaries Broken Social Scene and Stars is pretty well known, but her solo work is much different; whereas BSS is a bit more cacophonic and Stars is more metropolitan synth-pop, Millan's solo work is much more about front porch strummin', pickin' and grinnin'. Performing with a 5 piece band but still somehow keeping things stripped down, Amy and co. ran through a relaxed, charming set of songs from her two solo records, as well as dropping in a couple covers (Sarah Harmer's "Old Perfume" and a twangy cover of Death Cab for Cutie's "I Will Follow You Into The Dark"). All of it was great; lap steel, mandolin, stand up bass, and Amy's pristine voice blend together beautifully to create a sweet, warm sound that is as soothing as a warm bath and a hot toddy on a cold winter's evening. Hell, even Amy's stage banter (riffing on blowing up the moon and US/Canadian politics) was funny and laid back. For some reason, though, the set lacked some oomph. I'm not sure if it was the slightly uptight nature of the venue or just the casual nature of some of Millan's arrangements (or maybe everyone involved just needed some more booze in them), but part of what makes the pickin' & grinnin' genre of music so great is that chance that it may spiral into something more raucous at any time. I couldn't help but feel that this exact same show at a less stuffy venue (hello, Tractor Tavern) might have helped to push it over the edge into something a lot less subdued and a lot more unforgettable. That said, I think that may have more to do with what I was wanting out of the show ("Please, someone rock out!") and less to do with Millan not doing her part; her music is relaxing, reflective, and sensual, while still flexing a lot of musical muscle. Her band is phenomenal, her songwriting is only getting more interesting, honest, and heartbreaking, and the mix was as perfect as it gets. As it stands, it was a really pleasant way to spend an evening; sipping cocktails and getting a top notch show from some incredible musicians is never something I'll pass up, even if the cro-mag rocker in me isn't completely satiated.