Shearwater vocalist Jonathan Meiburg’s unique voice is capable of evoking a wide range of emotions in a way that is notable in the age of mediocre “emotive” singer-songwriters. Meiburg begins the song “Dread Sovereign” off his album Animal Joy with a tenderness to his words that possesses a strong sense of urgency, and as the song progresses, the immediacy breaks through to the surface. The opening lyrics “Maybe I’m lost / Maybe I’m not ready / Maybe I was not properly socialized” convey hesitation paired with the fear of the unknown and the acknowledgement of the uncertainty that comes with any relationship.
A talented voice would be meaningless without the beautiful melodies that, whether simple or complex, always manage to make an impact. The song “Immaculate” is a high-energy highlight of Animal Joy that is about a person’s life spiraling out of control through the metaphor of a crack running through ice. First there is the denial of the existence of the situation, “There never was a crack in the ice / You won’t believe in it,” as if ignoring the problem will make it go away. At the end of the song Meiburg sings, “You are alone on the ice / And you stand on the brakes to find nothing is happening,” which is the moment of realization, only it has come too late.
That is of course, one interpretation of the lyrics. Meiburg’s words are so poetic and full of metaphors that the intended meaning is not obvious and the listeners are free to let the words affect them in unique ways. Animal Joy is an album that has particular resonance with me, recollecting driving by a lake at night and watching the waning gibbous moon reflect it’s no-longer full light on the water. There is something about this expressive music that amplifies the majesty of the moon and nature.
Seeing the Austin, Texas-based band perform live was particularly memorable. Attending the Shearwater show at The Crocodile in Seattle on July 20 was like being let in on a well-guarded secret. Meiburg’s passion on stage is infectious, making for a gratifyingly interactive experience. Shearwater came across as very human, and the crowd was nothing but supportive and patient when the band broke two guitar strings at the same time and had to take a short intermission to restring their instruments.
There were two opening acts. First was Shenandoah Davis, an earnest vocalist and keyboard player backed by a violinist and percussionist. She is a local Seattle artist who, according to her website, often tours internationally. Her vocal style didn’t appeal to me personally, but she clearly had a lot of talent and classical training. The next band was an Australian group called Husky, also signed to Sub Pop. They played enjoyable indie-folk, and they have opened for bands like The Shins and Gotye.
Shearwater’s set was a fantastic blend of aural excellence and genuine enthusiasm. The venue’s recently updated soundsystem made the listening experience very enjoyable, and the audience was able to hear all of the rich tones and melodies. The lighting was a bit too dim for taking good photographs on my point-and-shoot camera, but it did help set the mood. The shadows that were cast created visual intrigue. As for the band, Meiburg was the focal point of the performance. He clearly puts a lot of emotion into his singing and playing, and his energy as he switched between instruments was delightful. The set included a number of songs from the band’s newest album, but there were enough older favorites to satisfy everyone in the crowd.