Thanks in no small part to local venues like The Strutt, Bell’s and The State Theater, residents of Kalamazoo (all 77,000 of us) have had the great fortune over the past few years to witness performances often allocated to cities two and three times our size.
On a recent Saturday night, Seattle’s Earth made a potentially once in a lifetime stop at The Strutt in Kalamazoo, MI, a show witnessed by perhaps 150 “real music fans,” as booking agent Sean Hartman described the scene.
Earth played to a low key, yet enraptured audience, one that was perhaps the polar opposite of Detroit rapper Esham’s Friday night crowd which bore witness to an unfortunate incident involving a knife, an abdomen and the conjoining of the two.
Violence, or really movement of any kind, slipped from the collective conscious upon the beginning of Earth’s set. Nearly two minutes of sublime cello bowed at a near indolent pace which set a somber, quietly ecstatic mood, one that hung over The Strutt until the final notes fell listlessly to the floor.
This low hanging cloud of sound and emotion was omnipresent throughout the night, Earth isn’t the kind of band you casually listen to, Earth is a band that envelops you. A single guitar blending with bass, drums and cello created a dense, brooding fog of sound that transcended music, entering into realms of pure feeling. Swaying gracefully back and forth the audience became one with the songs as they were being created. A more communal form of music, I have yet to witness.
And this wasn’t just one or two overly empathetic fans, nor was this a singular moment in time. No, this was all night, every song, and every moment. Seconds passed like hours as Earth’s glacial melodies crept through the room. How long was the set? It could have been ten minutes, it could have been four hours; minutes became statues, frozen, transfixed in a state of awe and reverence.
Overheard in the crowd beforehand were fans gripped with excitement, bewilderment and curiosity, as all were aware something special would happen, but no one was quite sure what. All anyone knew for certain was that Earth would be loud. And they were loud, but a different kind of loud. It wasn’t the noise or volume that made the audience shiver. It was the passion and the quantity of emotion being extruded from the speakers.
Never in my years attending shows by what I call “headphone bands” have I felt more alone in a crowd, and yet simultaneously connected to the pulse of all who were around me. Not during the times that I have seen Mark Kozelek, nor during the epic night in Lansing when I saw Explosions in the Sky. This feeling was pure and unique to the evening.
But it didn’t start with Earth, the adorably awkward Geneviève Castrée, a Canadian born songwriter who plays under the name Ô Paon was on hand to open the show. Castrée spoke of her native Canada with reverence and sang her hauntingly surreal ballads under a blanket of looped guitar plucks and spoken word French tone-poems.
Saying she created a great deal of sound for a lone musician would be misleading. Although she indeed effortlessly filled the room with her music, it was the reverberation of passing notes and the silence between words that left the deepest impressions in my mind.
Akin to Julie Doiron in her most sullen of moods, Ô Paon ’s music exuded a lushness only matched by the less than subtle paranoia of her looping echo filled vocals.
Though Ô Paon clearly did her job, warming and calming an excited crowd, it was Earth who left us all speechless. What Earth created that Saturday night was nothing short of Majestic; those not fighting tears were clearly not listening to what had transpired.