Review: Album Leaf + Sea Wolf @ GAMH

I had a brief moment of panic. I’d had the Album Leaf show on my calendar for months. I’d seen them last year as a three-piece at Bottom of the Hill, and couldn’t wait to see them again. Then I got a notice that my current obsession, Sea Wolf, was playing the same night. Shit. “Why do I have to choose between Album Leaf and Sea Wolf?” I lamented to myself. Much to my delight, not only did I not have to choose, but both were on the same bill! To make things even better, one of my oldest friends would be visiting from LA and could accompany me.

The Great American Music Hall is my least favorite concert venue in the city. It’s a beautiful club, but the lighting bites. After shooting Stellastar at GAMH for Noisepop 2008, I swore I’d never shoot there again. Last fall, several people told me I should give them another try, as they’d recently upgraded/added lights. Well they may have upgraded their lights, but for some inexplicable reason, they rarely use the new ones. It’s a crying shame, because two great bands like Album Leaf and Sea Wolf deserve to be bathed in subtle and delicate light as shimmery and glowing as their songs.

Sea Wolf kicked things off with a 40 minute set. They opened, as they had on their previous visit with “White Water, White Bloom” and immediately I knew the months of touring since their last visit had paid off. Last time they played SF, the new album was just about to be released and they had only played their new material live a handful of times. This time, Alex was so much more at ease and the vocals had so much more power and swagger. You can hear him spit as he sings on the album, and now the live performance of the new material had that same raw energy, and foot-stomping passion. I also credit part of this ease to their new guitarist, Nathan Anderson. I’ve seen the band play seven times, the last three of which were with Nathan. He seems to have a sense of ease when he playing and it is most definitely rubbing off on Alex. This has made Alex much looser, and in turn, the whole band even tighter. My only complaint was that the set was short enough that it didn’t include “Black Dirt” or “The Cold, The Dark, and The Silence.”

After a short break, and much drooling at the sound guy by my friend Lisa, the Album Leaf took the stage. This was not the same Album Leaf I had seen last year, this was a new and improved, eleven-member-touring-ensemble Album Leaf. They filled the stage with strings, keyboards, and instruments a-plenty. After Sea Wolf’s rousing set, they were incredibly, blissfully, mellow. Exactly what the doctor ordered. As my fellow Ice Cream Man photographer Matthias Ingimarsson says, “Jimmy LaVelle’s hypnotizing instrumentals serve as a sedative for my restless mind.” It’s so true. The Album Leaf is the music that I play on my ipod when I go to the dentist. This isn’t meant to be a slight, but the greatest complement. I get really anxious when someone’s digging around in my mouth, and Jimmy LaVelle knows just how to soothe me, much like a mother cradling an anxious child. I felt completely wrapped in a warm calming blanket as the Album Leaf played.

I’m not good with remembering set lists, but they played several pieces from their new album, “A Chorus of Storytellers”, as well as my favorite song, “The Outer Banks”. It was a wonderful night of delicate music that I wish had the lighting to match.

See full image set: Sea Wolf at GAMH
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See full image set:Album Leaf at GAMH
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