“Here’s an old one now” says Alex Brown Church (aka Sea Wolf) as he strums the first chords of Black Leaf Falls. He pauses and smiles, “I forgot to play it actually.” With rows of fold-out chairs facing a lanky, bearded Church (complete with a cardigan with big brown buttons and elbow patches) Brighton Music Hall had transformed into a cozier venue than usual.
The fireside-chat type feel was appropriate for the show; Church took us on a ride through time, skipping from album to album. We stopped by a Halloween of the distant past – “This is the first song I wrote for Sea Wolf” – and caught a glimpse of what’s to come with not-yet-released tune Young Bodies. But the set list wasn’t the only thing that spanned a decade. Looking around you could see Church’s crowd not only varied in age, but perhaps, came for different reasons. Hip twenty-somethings held up their iPhones, hoping to capture the moment to later announce their late-night concert ventures on Facebook. Meanwhile, the greying, balding man in the white collared button down sat still, the eyes behind his thin-rimmed glasses closed shut, listening intently to the soft sounds sprinkled into the space.
Although usually backed up by a band, that night it was just us and Alex Brown Church. “I’m not really the songwriter guy who tells the story before playing the songs” he told us. After having been to Damien Jurado’s similar gig (he also left behind the band to take on solo live shows of his material) it was hard not to draw up comparisons. Apart from differences in the physical set up – Church stood throughout the show while the audience sat, Jurdao had to be seated as the audience stood – the ways in which the singers interacted with their audience said a lot.
While Jurado handed the audience the reigns, letting them guide parts of the show, Church seemed hesitant to do so. At one point, an audience member shouted out a request (his hit song “You’re A Wolf,” of course) and Church responded with a smile before breaking out in “Old Friend.” Sure, he followed that up with “You’re A Wolf” but why wait? He had complete control of the show; there were no band members to which he had to motion a setlist change. I’m a firm believer in artist’s ability to adapt to the atmosphere and the audience – after all, that’s a bit part of what sets apart a live show from the recorded material – so this missed connection was a bit of a disappointment.
That’s not to say Church didn’t entertain us with his honest chatter (“Pick test. This one is thinner.”) or lack of, for that matter: “I can’t tune and talk at the same time it’s like one of those pat your head rub your stomach things, so forgive me… But I can sing and play guitar at the same time so I’m not sure how that works.” The low-key night one would expect from Sea Wolf ended with the crowd whispering the words to “Middle Distance Runner.”
- Still strong solo
- Varied set list
- Could've adapted set list to fit crowd's request