Show Review: The Silent Comedy and Or, The Whale @ Casbah, 3/22/2008

Photos: The Silent Comedy and Or, The Whale @ Casbah

I’m not by nature a religious person. I’m a scientist, which means I have a deep-seated respect and a great feeling awe for the universe. But I grew up Catholic, going as far as getting confirmed in the church – which means I’ve had enough preaching to last me for the rest of my life, and then some. I do often wonder, though, what my feelings on the subject might be if the services I attended as a child were a little more, well, FUN. A little less reverent and a lot more joyous.

Fitting, therefore, that I ended up at the Casbah last Saturday night for my brand of Easter Vigil. Now I won’t go so far as to say that the Casbah is my church, but I’m usually there at least once a week to see some sort of performance – so the analogy holds. And the bands that played that night were nothing less than appropriate. The whole time I felt like I was attending a church revival. The kind where the communion wine is actually moonshine.

I walked in during what ended up being Silverbird’s last song. They were covering Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” (a fine choice), but Justin broke a string on what turned out to be his second guitar of the night. Unfortunately, no one had any spare strings, so they had to end their set early. I was disappointed because I haven’t seen them since that one time at the Che Cafe, and I keep trying to, but they keep eluding me.

Up next was San Francisco’s Or, The Whale, whom I’d heard of via Adrian. I looked on in disbelief as they kept setting up instrument after instrument on the Casbah stage. I mean, I’ve seen smaller stages in my life, but it gets cramped up there pretty quickly. Especially when you have seven people playing said instruments. A lot of bands, when faced with that space constraint, might feel compelled to rein in the ‘rockin out, but not this bunch – they played a super energetic, raucous set.

That repertoire of instruments contained a pedal steel guitar and a banjo, by the way. Honestly, the quickest way to my heart, as a band, is via pedal steel or bluesy piano lines. I don’t know why, but it weakens my auditory equivalent of knees. Another thing that does this is great vocal harmonies, especially a pairing of male and female vocals. And you guessed it – Or, The Whale had those too.

They had some really countrified slower songs (I mean, really, with pedal steel, it’d be a crime not to), but even during these songs they kept the audience engaged via melodies that were easy to sing along to. And for their final song, they called members of The Silent Comedy on stage to help them out, and man – if I thought Or, The Whale was raucous, they had nothing on the boys from The Silent Comedy.

And yeah, if I thought Or, The Whale had a lot of instruments/people to fit on stage, I think The Silent Comedy one-upped them there – no pedal steel, but they did have a a trombone and a saxophone. And enough people joining in on random songs that they couldn’t all be on stage at the same time.

The two bands fit nicely together on the bill (as well as Silverbird) – they both contain elements of country rock, but I’d say that in The Silent Comedy’s case they veered a little closer to roots rock than Or, The Whale. Their main singer has a smooth, soulful voice, but there are a few different singers in the band, so their vocal sound is extremely versatile.

They also have a violinist/fiddler (in the context of their songs, I feel like I have to refer to it as a fiddle), who went absolutely crazy on a couple of the songs. And, of course, there was also a banjo involved. All the eclectic instruments that I like…

During their last song, the singer/bassist ended up first out in the crowd, then on the actual floor, which is where most of the tent revival feeling came from. I feel like they’d do really well on a bill with Delta Spirit – has this happened yet? Regardless, after those two sets (and after picking up CDs from both of the bands), I was spent for the evening. I ducked out during Get Back Loretta’s set and headed home for the evening, feeling as though I had gotten my fill of church again – and actually enjoyed it this time.