Oh Lord, it really brings me down about the devil town

Mandolin shred, courtesy of The Bay Bridged

Mandolin shred, courtesy of The Bay Bridged

If you’re a member of a well-regarded band and you’ve played hundreds of shows in a string of cities for so long you could be in your high school cafeteria for all you know, I can sympathize with a strictly-business ethic. Stick to the music, keep chit chat to a minimum, cut loose for your faster numbers but save a bit of energy for the inevitable three-song encore. It’s kind of sad, but a seasoned concert attendant can detect this kind of modus operandi.

That’s why it’s up to the new blood, the yet-to-breakthrough musicians to woo the fans curious enough to leave the safety of their living rooms, pay exorbitant prices for cheap beer, and cheer on the band through endless sound checks and waves of girls doing silly dances with their arms. That’s why a band like the Builders and the Butchers will do their best to leave you with that feeling, maybe three songs into their set, that you are a part of something unruly and bubbling and undoubtedly alive. Judging by the drums and coveted fish maraca that the band passed around for the throng to play with during their performance at the Wonder Ballroom, I’d say the wooing worked. But I could make this guess based on the fact that one individual whom I found myself standing two feet away from at the start of the show brought his own tambourine, for jingle-jangle purposes, I would think.

You might not guess that a band preoccupied with townships rotten at the core, devils in human clothing, and situations as thick and numbing as lake water would so adeptly invoke the vigor of a church revival. I wonder if the Builders and the Butchers’ overwhelmingly hopeless lyrical themes need their audiences to participate in order to keep the attendees from going home and talking about what a bummer the show was. Then again, the performance evokes an older era of music, when people came to concert halls to meet friends, dance, and be engaged with the band in a manner that anyone who has ever texted more than a single sentence during a solo can’t grasp. This is evidenced by a gospel choir cameo, four cellists, and the many talents of Harvey Tumbelson, who tries his hand at the banjo, bass ukelele, and dulcimer among other instruments on the latest album, Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well. It comes as no surprise that the album was produced by Chris Funk, a guitarist with fellow Portland-base anachronists, the Decemberists. Lead singer, Ryan Sollee, can even bray like Colin Meloy. So I’m a little conflicted. I hope that such a compelling local band becomes immensely popular, requiring bigger venues and having to work across a much vaster space to connect with a single audience member up in the nosebleeds. But should it happen, I’ll sure miss the romantic pull of the fish maraca.

  • The Builders and the Butchers ~ Salvation Is a Deep Dark Well ~ Gigantic Music

Devil Town


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