Live Review: Horse Feathers, Thursday Aug. 20 at Doug Fir
Oh so sublimely pretty: I don't know how else to describe what Horse Feathers does. Every song the group sings and strums gives me chills. And when they play before your very eyes, you can't help but think that age-old time capsule thought: If this sound was frozen and thawed before listeners generations from now, what would they think? And seeing how Horse Feathers draw so much style from musical forms born eras ago, I imagine that future folks would be just as gripped by the band's soothing, acoustic, gracefully Victorian sound.
Frontman Justin Ringle and company admitted to only having a few days to practice, but the group played like they'd been training for months. The wavy, artful ramblings—accented by impatient violin plucking or the on-again-off-again crash cymbal—made hairs stand on end. And while the local group's lyrics are always a bit of a mystery, akin to the meandering vocal melodies of Sigur Ros, what escapes Ringle's pipes is a slough of adjectives: Haunting, resonating, gallant, velvety, and untempered.
Interrupted only by a gasp or sniffle, Horse Feathers played with all of their gentle might at Doug Fir. Studying the faces of the quartet, I began to understand that even gorgeousness is labor, and sans sweat and tire, none of it is possible. Ringle's eyes shuffled frantically, searching for the perfect imaginary placement of each note and seeing to it that they all land where they're supposed to. What most people don't notice about his bandmate Sam Cooper is that he often plays percussion, mandolin and banjo at the same time. Singing with a mallet in his mouth and pick in hand is common practice. I reached for my wallet, forgetting I was at a show and not witnessing some Saturday Market phenom. He should be tipped anyway.
If there's every any complaint aimed at Horse Feathers, it's that their songs can mesh into one. Though they're guilty of that at times, perhaps that's the point: The tunes flutter like pages of a book in the wind and together form a larger portrait. And like a Muntz painting, you feel it swimming in your blood and clawing at your skeleton.