Silver Jews at Neumo’s, Seattle | 2 October 2008
A few things struck me while I was watching the Silver Jews last night at Neumo’s:
1. I would never be considered a real fan by the diehards that surrounded me. I wouldn’t say that I was dragged to the show. I willingly volunteered when my friend Mike said he was going. I remember liking Starlight Walker back in my days as music director at WCDB in Albany, NY, but I must admit that Dave Berman’s band initially got my interest because of his guitarist, Steve Malkmus. Over the years I’ve been an on again, off again with them, but after last night’s show I think it’s safe to say I’m now a bona fide fan.
2. Dave Berman, who is really the main Jew kind of stalks the stage like Mark E Smith of the Fall. Throughout the night I kept being reminded of MES. For one thing, Berman’s delivery is kind of a talk-sing style, though Berman is much easier to understand than Smith. He’s also what you might call an eccentric guy, it’s nothing you can really put your finger on, but carrying around a 9v battery throughout the night, muttering about losing his set list which he had written on a tiny note card and his map and easil all made for a stage presence you don’t see every day. Berman’s wife is also a member of the band like Smith who’s wife is also in the Fall.
3. Berman is a tall, lanky fellow and many times he seemed to get lost in the moment of the performance, knocking over his easil, getting tangled in his mic chord, and losing his set list. He was kind of like the absent minded professor, but a professor for sure. His dark western style suit and big dark glasses lent to his eccentric flair, and his birch stick that he used to point out on his hand drawn map, flailed around nearly poking band members. I flinched a couple times as the long stick wished through the air.
4. The map seemed to be very important to Berman, when the easil it was on got smashed, he took the time to break each of the easil legs to the same length so that we could all still see the map. A few times he looked at the set list and announced, ‘ahh a map song!’ Then he’d grab his stick and point to a city or state he’d drawn on it. He would even continue the geography lesson mid song, often times routing us between cities and states and looking up as if to make sure we were all getting it. Safe to say, a lot the crowd had studied hard for this class in the Silver Jews and knew all the answers. Constant requests and professions of love were coming out of the audience all night.
5. The two guitarists, alternating leads provided a beefier sound to the Silver Jews. Silver Jews records have always been excercises in lo-fi with the emphasis on Berman’s lyrics. Not that the guitars were ever neglected on the records, but last night they just took a front seat comfortably beside Berman. I thought this was great, opening up the sound and taking the focus off of the Berman at times. My friend Mike thought that the guitars were a bit loud making Berman’s singing hard to hear at times. A valid complaint, since Berman’s lyrics are pretty damn amazing minus music of any kind. (I heard everything fine, I think you’re going deaf Mike)
6. Bassist Cassie Berman, who as I mentioned is married to Dave Berman, also sings. Mostly singing small parts or backing vocals. On Tennessee from the Bright Flight Album, she takes a more prominent roll and I thought it was one the highlights of the night. She has a sweet, dulcete voice that makes a great foil to Berman’s rustic twang.
7. It has been said that the latest Jews album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is not as good as previous releases. It may not be as consistent, but it contains some of the best Silver Jews songs to date and that was made more evident hearing them played live. Songs like What is Not But Could Be If, Strange Victory Strange Defeat and my favorite of the night, San Francisco, BC were as good as anything else in the set.
8. Berman seems to keep track of how many shows the Silver Jews have played. Mid set, he announced that this was in fact only their 95th show. I guess it must be pretty easy to keep track since he’s notoriously shyed away from touring. In fact this is only the second time he’s brought the band on the road in their nearly 20 years of existence.
9. There are more photos from the show including the Silver Jews map and the set list over at my Flickr page.