The quiet shows are always the most vulnerable. Chit-chat at the bar can poison an entire evening, wafting over from clanking glasses to the stage like a toxic cloud. I have seen musicians simply pack up and leave when conditions are too boisterous for their fragile ways.
Tuesday night's show was the antithesis of this. Credit to the quiet crowd, so bashful that every musician remarked on it. Patrick Park even filled the gap between a pair of songs by making cricket chirps as he tuned his guitar (surprisingly realistic ones at that). But this is what every acoustic performer dreams of. The blankest of canvasses. Sera Cahoone, who headlined the night, chased her comments of shock with, “it's great, I'm just not used to it.”
Willoughby opened up shop, with a Roy Orbison-inspired set fit with a manikin sixth band member. The manikin had a microphone wedged sideways into her head, allowing the band to sing sweet nothings into her ear. Her left arm was removed so the lead singer could reach around and play the guitar she wore on her pale plastic shoulders. Musically, the group was cohesive and clean, the grippiest of the three acts.
Sera's longtime friend Patrick Park appeared solo next. The two played in a high school band together years back. He too reveled in the calmness of the venue, singing powerfully atop his battered acoustic guitar. At times, his ever-climbing vocals resembled Horse Feathers' Justin Ringle, though Park always carried a slight southern drawl (natural or otherwise). Segueing into his third or fourth track, Park issued one of the best prefaces to a song I've ever heard, which went something like this:
“Fortunately, this is the only song I have where I was shot at while recording it.”
Which, apparently, is true. A drunken neighbor on a mission to “protect the neighborhood” sprayed his door with buckshot as Park peaked out to identify the clamor. It's a taste of some of the dysfunction that seems to be the muse for much of Park's soul-shaking material. For one man and his guitar, Park creates quite an earthquake.
The Seattle-based and Sub Pop-signed musician Sera Cahoone kept it simple with her speedy 40-minute set. She shared the stage with a slide guitarist who occasionally chimed in with whispery backup vocals. Aside from hits off her '08 record Only As The Day Is Long, Cahoone covered Loretta Lynn's “Trouble On The Line,” a potent, head-in-arms song the duo admitted to having very little experience with. “It's from an album that features a song called P'ortland, Oregon,'” the slide guitarist said. We admired his attempt to relate to the crowd with something outside of the familiar (weather, coffee, beards, bikes, etc.).
Sera talked of moving to Portland before trying out some new material on the small but tuned-in crowd. It was more or less the same Sera: Soft but serious, extremely radiant and classic in its countrified core.