Of Note: Mark Stock submitted the two enclosed pieces of art ("I've been playing around with my girlfriend's iPad," he says) in lieu of live photos. -Ed.
Sink or swim, Thousands’ Kristian Garrard and Luke Bergman will no doubt do so together. They share a super adhesive bond more commonly seen in chess teams, where players are forced to predict strategy five moves into the future.
As much as I appreciate Thousands’ neatly nuanced debut, The Sound of Everything, in the privacy of home and headphones, it takes a live show to witness their musical partnership. It comes through in an endless string of nods and whispers. The two study each other’s every abrupt chord change and time shift, creating a single symmetrical animal, balanced by Garrard’s pace and tenor and Bergman’s rooted rhythms and background vocals.
Audibly, the group is acoustic, balanced and urgent. The obvious comparison is Simon & Garfunkel, especially given Thousands’ tightly fastened vocal harmonies and the subtly ominous cloud that hangs over most of their songs. It is this looming shadow that makes listening at home a spooky endeavor. There is a Hitchcockian tension in studio Thousands recordings that leaves me skittish and mortal. Some of that can be attributed to the many ambient sounds pumped into the record, which can lull a listener into a temporary false state of relaxation.
Last winter, the two played before a chatty crowd at the Doug Fir. This time, Thousands had it quiet. Many—perhaps aware of these chess players' clairvoyance—moved into the balcony, aware that the show would be more hymnal than heavy. The oasis is better from afar, in the context of its barren surroundings.
A keyboardist joined Garrard and Bergman on stage, chiming in every so often with dreamy garnishes for slow and emanating tracks like “The Sound of Everything.” Between the vocal cat-and-mouse game Thousands has made its own, there were hints of early, near-instrumental Fleetwood Mac. Folky, fidgety, unified guitar that coasted back and forth between sunny Americana and a darker, classically derived mode (heard best in “Mtses III”).
Thousands sounded most 1960s Greenich Village in “Sun Cuz,” a bright and skipping track that spotlights Garrard’s strong ability to affix vocals to a rocky and complicated sound structure. Other artists fall short here, like bull riders at their first rodeo. Somehow, Garrard’s vocals hang on. Elliott Smith can be heard on tracks like “To Save The Truth,” dressed in brushy plucking and the sliding whine of fingers darting from one end of the guitar to the other.
All was silent for “Big Black Road,” a shivery, rainy-day number. The minimal vocals were thick like sap, shaken free here and there by Garrard’s vibrato. They put the song to sleep with a wordless chorus of hums, the one instance that evening where the guitars pulled out first. It was more of a collective gasp, the sign of quiet and well earned exhaustion.