White Water, White Bloom lilted over the stereo of our Buick Lebaron as my posse of three and I skidded into a rimy parking spot across the street from Urban Lounge. At second glance, however, we noticed that even though we had arrived at 10 p.m. and doors were at nine, there remained a substantial, shivering line. Fifteen minutes of ass-numbing fidgets later the front doors of the venue creaked open and we slipped and skidded across 500 East and melded into the wintry, confused crowd.
Lacking explanation, but exuberant that their long hour of frigid waiting conditions were over, the flock skittered inside and around the bar and the stage equally, like vultures. Thankfully, the first act, locals Pentagraham Crackers, had already begun their sound check. An odd ensemble of characters stood onstage testing the mics and instruments: football jersey, grunge, zoned out and button up. As the first chord progression began, I instantly imagined them playing in a Fresno garage in the ’90s. Their second-to-last song, “After Life” (“I want to kill myself, I want to do it right, I want to take a line of pills tonight”), wrapped up their entire schtick in one song. Their final number was an unexpected treat: Surf rock morphed to intense, three-guitar bridges and climaxed in an unpredictable, perfectly transitioning breakdown.
The Devil Whale was overwhelmingly adorable as they took the stage. Their name has been mentioned often during drunken, roof jumping adventures, and I was feverish with anticipation to hear them live. They began slowly, leaning into the melody like lovers. A sweet mix of Beatles-pop and quintessential indie alternative began to swim through the sweaty atmosphere. Brinton Jones scuffled his beanie and winked into the microphone. His right-hand man (left to be literal), Jake Fish (bass), offered a fresh set of island-esque back up vocals¬––¬¬but I couldn’t help but remark on, and delight in, his seemingly perpetual O-face. Cameron Runyan (drums) jammed in his own world while guitarists Jamie Timm and Wren Kennedy swayed back and forth consistently throughout the set, all the while charming. After performing a mix from their album Teeth and yelling back and forth sarcastically to familiar crowd members, they cavorted offstage and were gone.
By this time, the heat had been turned on, transforming Urban Lounge into a sweltering clusterfuck. A multitude of sweaty heads and arms flopped about, spanning from horizon to horizon. I happened to be one of many standing directly under a vent, which provoked cries from my neighbors.
Setup for Sea Wolf began, overseen in all aspects by Alex Brown Church. Six perfectly spaced spotlights backlit the frame, reflecting excellently on a set of glistering, silver drums and added drum kit. After a brief pause in the green room, Sea Wolf emerged congenially, all looking dapper and composed. The spotlights dimmed and the performers glommed onto their devices. Familiar, lilting guitar, a cymbal smash, and a wave of illumination ushered in “You’re a Wolf,” The circumference of luminescence was unassisted, dim and quivering. Every bright moment in the show was accompanied by a simply (but elegantly) choreographed light show.
After an expeditious “hello” and “thank you” to the crowd, Church and Lisa Fendelander on keyboards cooperated to transition smoothly into their second song, “Priscilla,” from their newest album, Old World Romance. The conglomerate onstage bounced steadily to the plodding backbeat with humble smiles. I have never witnessed a music group that could sound so uncannily like their albums live, while somehow improving it as well. The show swirled on in a mix of songs from all three albums. An amalgamation of harmonies added a rich tone to the performance. Gleam from the backlights looked velvety on the backs of the performers.
Perfectly timed percussion from Joey Ficken was at times aided by a small tambourine attached to his drumstick. Tactics such as these allow a group of five to create the sonorous, overflowing resonance that is Sea Wolf. Later on, guitarist Scott Leahy changed veins and began tapping on a xylophone during “Song for the Dead.” Church’s intensity amplified, strained neck and body swaying. Fendelander donned another tambourine to create one of the most satisfying performances of the evening.
After an existential performance of “St. Catherine St.” (my personal favorite from Old World Romance), the lights cut out and the temper momentarily changed. Higher energy renditions of “Spirit Horse” and “The Traitor” (both from White Water, White Bloom) flowed out of the amps like cream. The ensemble remained equable and focused until the lights cut out once again and suddenly “Black Dirt” clawed over the speakers with a vehemence I could have never before imagined. The stage became brighter and brighter until I could scarcely bear the intensity of the production and my excitement alike. Loose, curly hair swung from Eliot Lorango (bass), who showcased his keen ability to keep beautifully on-time all the while gyrating engagingly. Church’s voice echoed leathery and fluid through Urban while the crowd lost themselves in the song. Furious smashing of arms blinded me. When it was over, voices erupted from all corners of the room in most of the crowd’s one display of enthusiasm all night.
After a snappy execution of “Kasper,” Sea Wolf waved to the crowd, beaming, and quietly made their way back into the green room. The lights stayed off and a spare few chanted “Sea Wolf.” I was very disappointed with the lack of interest the people around me seemed to show in the miracle they had just witnessed. Thankfully, and in spite of the dim-witted onlookers, they sauntered back through the door and onto the platform.
The encore was delightful and upbeat, but left me with the notion that the habit of encores should be done away with entirely. Church invited everyone to come speak with him at the merchandise table as the lights snapped on. I sat idle momentarily before making a brief stop at merch. Onslaught from the crowd made the exchange brief. From the fleeting moment I said “hello,” I gathered the same thing I had been gathering all night––Church and his band of merry performers genuinely care about their fans and people in general. I could not have been happier as my head hit the pillow a half an hour later.