Posts Tagged ‘Shearwater’

All this week, we’re presenting “[W]hat may well have been among New York City’s best live shows this year [2018]” recordings of the performances of David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy: Low(1977), “Heroes”(1977), and 1979’s Lodger, and the music that inspired the trilogy. In the week where we mark the anniversaries of Bowie’s birth and his death, you can hear those stunning performances of Bowie’s music and the works that inspired it.

One album was performed in its entirety each night—Lodger on the 17th, “Heroes” on the 18th, and Low on the 19th—and each concert will open with short programs of music that inspired the trilogy composed by Brian Eno and Klaus Schulze.

Recorded at Brookfield Place in October of 2018, the cast of players was led by Shearwater/Loma’s Jonathan Meiburg and featured current and past members of Shearwater, Deerhoof, Dirty Projectors, Wordless Music Orchestra, Xiu Xiu, Battle Trance, Glass Ghost, and Loma, along with special guest, Carlos Alomar (David Bowie’s guitarist and musical director for 30 years.) Also, hear music that inspired the trilogy: Brian Eno’s “Discreet Music,” and selections from Another Green World (1975), and “Body Love” by Klaus Schulze.

Jonathan Meiburg, in the program, writes that “[T]hese albums are the pinnacle of [Bowie’s] musical and artistic output…the Berlin Trilogy has everything: brooding, cinematic instrumentals, rave-ups that end almost before they begin, gorgeous ballads that threaten to collapse on themselves, and Bowie’s most famous and expansive song. Jonathan Meiburg had begun rehearsing a few songs from Lodger with his band Shearwater. Then Bowie passed, and it seemed like an encore or two of “Look Back in Anger” wasn’t enough. They figured out how to play the whole album, and then wanted more. Meanwhile, the band’s Emily Lee had already begun the herculean task of scoring out the albums’ impenetrable ambient epics.

Shearwater decided to begin with Lodger, the album they knew best and was easiest to play, which also meant the series would end with Low’s loveliest and most confounding moments. They also decided to bring in some friends, including saxophonist Travis Laplante and Deerhoof shredder Ed Rodriguez. While Bowie had at least a dozen singers in his body, they split the songs into three, more or less: Meiburg, Lee, and Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart. It was a series of smart decisions for a strange locale.

Wordless kicked off the first night with a statement of intent: Eno’s Discreet Music, reenvisioned as wafts of guitar, cello, and electronics for a platonic ideal of mall music. Lodger is the most accessible in the trilogy, but it’s hardly Muzak—especially its wildest moments Bowie never attempted to play live. The deeply weird “African Night Flight” was all squalls and lumbering rhythms and rapid-fire monologue from Stewart, while “Move On”—essentially Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes” played backwards—sounded live like some blend of the Who and Pornography-era Cure. And the, as Meiburg put it, “unfortunately timely” “Boys Keep Swinging” was a sleazy riot.

In the rehearsals I sat in on, the band seemed deeply nervous about tackling “Heroes.” And yet, piled into a warehouse’s small soundproofed room with views of the toxic Gowanus Canal instead of the Wall, they’d managed to make the beloved title track sound new, anchored by Power’s amiable bass and Meiburg’s affectionate melancholy set against Stewart’s anguished wailing. On stage, they did it again, and tore through the first side’s “Beauty and the Beast” and especially the psychotic broken beats of “Blackout” with relish before launching into the second side’s moody complexity.

It’s possible to play these songs, Meiburg had told Schaefer in an interlude, as long as you stop thinking “and just glide over the top of it.” As Lee plucked her koto and Stewart caressed a gong for “Moss Garden,” we were all gliding along with them. And then we were plummeting deep into “Neuköln,” the low point of “Heroes,” which they performed as a kind of Badalamenti-goes-to-Berlin noir with an almost ridiculous finale courtesy of Laplante’s bravura sax solo. How could this possibly be followed? “Luckily, this album comes with its own encore,” Meiburg joked, referring to the slinky “The Secret Life of Arabia,” which closed the night with the kind of release only disco handclaps can offer.

Speaking of release, on the final night Wordless dug up a 1977 porn soundtrack by Klaus Schulze as a prelude to Low, and cellist Clarice Jensen filled her arrangement of the krautrock icon’s Body Love with wild drones and spurts of percussion—a real treat, especially with surprise guest Shahzad Ismaily on Moog. Schaefer also came with a surprise: Bowie’s longtime collaborator Carlos Alomar, who explained that completing the trilogy took “curiosity, courage—oh, and a half-million-dollar budget.”

Meiburg and company had plenty of the first two, launching into Low with a fairly nonchalant “Speed of Life,” the album’s opening credits, and a menacing take on “Breaking Glass” in which Stewart howled “you’re such a wonderful person/but you’ve got PROBLEMS” and Meiburg whispered in response, “I’ll never touch you.” The moment was fraught. But the real killer of Low is side two. In rehearsals, Meiburg had counted out the beats for “Warszawa” as the group found the math in its midsts. On stage, before the largest and loudest audience of the series, Alomar came out and conducted, his presence almost pastoral. Blessed, they carried on, playing “Weeping Wall” with a lack of preciousness that turned Bowie’s proto-post-rock beauty into an ersatz Morricone Western. “Subterraneans,” Low’s highlight, was a different frontier altogether: still alien, still bleak, but newly inhabitable.

The crowd stood and cheered, visions of Bowie in our heads, looking back in wonder at where we are now. Just blocks from where Bowie passed, the city paid its respects the way it always does: by reinventing the past. The Berlin trilogy might be history, but it’s full of living songs,

John Schaefer continues:

Bowie actually began referring to his “Berlin Trilogy” only in the promotional phase leading up to Lodger’s release. In retrospect, all three albums reflect the city – its darkness, its cultural ferment, its isolation. Working with Brian Eno, and Tony Visconti, Bowie produced some of his most memorable rock songs, and some of his edgiest. But he also surprised and confounded the listening public by devoting large stretches of each record to musical experiments that departed not only from the world of rock but from the song format itself.

The lasting impact of these three albums has been felt not just in the world of rock but in contemporary classical music as well. Philip Glass was moved to write a series of symphonies based on the trilogy: his Lodger Symphony completes that trilogy and premieres in 2019. Subsequent generations of composers and musicians have grown up with the freedom to move among the various musical worlds that Bowie explored in these three pivotal albums. For proof, you need only look at the musicians in these concerts: they represent a gathering of the tribes, from the worlds of indie rock, but also from New York’s thriving contemporary music scene – many are part of both camps, and some are composers themselves.”

The band Members:

Timo Andres (piano, synthesizer)

Angel Deradoorian (flute, voice, synthesizer) launched a solo career after making a name for herself with well-known acts such as Dirty Projectors, Avey Tare, and Flying Lotus. In 2009, she appeared on Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca, released her first solo EP under the name Deradoorian and lent her vocal talents to LP, the debut album from Discovery (founded by Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend and Wesley Miles of Ra Ra Riot). In 2015, she released her long-awaited solo album, The Expanding Flower Planet (2015), Eternal Recurrence, her second release released in 2017.

Dan Duszynski (guitar, voice, percussion) He is also the drummer of ethereal rock band Loma (Sub Pop).

Greg Fox (drums) is a New York City born-and-bred drummer, He has played on and released 49 records since 2008, including his work with Liturgy, ZS, Ben Frost, Colin Stetson, Skeletons, Hieroglyphic Being, Man Forever, and others, named “Best Drummer in NYC” by the Village Voice in 2011. Currently spending most of his time in NYC,

Josh Halpern (drums) is a live and session drummer, singer, and producer based in Austin, Texas and is known for his infectiously animated performances. He’s most at home on the road with bands like Shearwater, Still Corners, Marmalakes and Palo Duro His most recent studio recording is Nights and Weekends, a collaboration with songwriter Peter Shults, released under the name Teddy Glass.

Clarice Jensen (cello, electronics) is the artistic director of ACME, She has collaborated with composers and recording artists, including Jóhann Jóhannsson, Stars of the Lid, Owen Pallett, Max Richter, Tyondai Braxton, and numerous others.

Eliot Krimsky (synthesizer) played keyboards with Here We Go Magic and Meshell Ndegeocello, He is currently preparing his first solo album, Wave in Time.

Travis Laplante (tenor saxophone) is a saxophonist, composer, and qigong practitioner living in Brooklyn, New York, Laplante leads Battle Trance, the acclaimed tenor saxophone quartet, as well as Subtle Degrees,

Emily Lee (musical director, keyboards, voice, koto, violin) is a New York-based multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. She performs in Shearwater, Loma, and Snake Oil, and plays keyboards with Mutoid Man for the heavy metal talk show Two Minutes to Late Night.

Frank LoCrasto (synthesizer) is a Texas-born, Brooklyn-based musician, He has appeared on more than 40 records.

Grey Mcmurray (guitar, bass, voice) has been called “sublimely odd” (New York Magazine), and “the world’s least obtrusive guitarist” (The Guardian). Recently he has been performing as a duo with Beth Orton, Colin Stetson’s Sorrow Ensemble, He is the co-leader of the duo itsnotyouitsme with Caleb Burhans, with four releases on New Amsterdam Records.

Jonathan Meiburg (voice, guitar) leads the band Shearwater, which has released six albums since 2006 on Matador and Sub Pop Records. The most recent, 2016’s Jet Plane and Oxbow, and the band’s live performance of Lodger for the Onion’s A.V. Club inspired them to take on Bowie’s entire Berlin trilogy. Meiburg also performs with Loma, whose self-titled debut was released this year by Sub Pop and is currently finishing a book about South America’s strangest birds of prey. He lives in Brooklyn.

Lucas Oswald (guitar, voice) is a songwriter, He has toured internationally with Minus Story, Old Canes, Appleseed Cast, Jesca Hoop, and Shearwater.

Sadie Powers (bass)  She tours with Shearwater and recently toured with Lucy Dacus. Her composition, Wick (for french horn, water glasses, and electronics), was recorded in Spring 2018 by the avant-garde trio How Things Are Made and appears on the trio’s album, She comprises half the electroacoustic ambient duo, Triptychs, and was the bassist for the new romantic band Dead Fame, which released albums Frontiers (2011) and Vicious Design (2014).

Ed Rodriguez (guitar) has been around far too long  He currently plays guitar in Deerhoof.

Jamie Stewart (voice, percussion) He began the musical group Xiu Xiu in 2002.

Carlos Alomar (special guest) was David Bowie’s rhythm guitarist and music director for almost thirty years. His songwriting credits include “Fame” with Bowie and John Lennon, as well as “DJ” and “The Secret Life Of Arabia” with Bowie and Brian Eno.

We’re releasing The Sky is a Blank Screen, a live album compiled from last year’s tours for “Jet Plane and Oxbow”.

The hour-plus album catches the excellent lineup of me, Emily Lee, Lucas Oswald, Sadie Powers, and Josh Halpern smashing our way through extended, sometimes off-the-rails versions of songs from JPOB in front of audiences in Seattle and London.

It also features other live performances not before an audience, including a spare, reworked “Radio Silence” broadcast on Austin’s KUTX, a demo of “Only Child” from my apartment, a cover of Bauhaus’ “Kick in the Eye” (recorded for the Onion’s AV Club on the same day as our cover of Bowie’s Lodger album), a reinvented “Rooks”, and “You As You Were” from Animal Joy.

Purchases of the complete album also include a bonus live cover of David Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)”, which seemed like a new national anthem at the end of 2016—a year that made Jet Plane‘s preoccupation with national myth-making seem uncomfortably prescient.

The Sky is a Blank Screen is available for streaming and download in a variety of formats (including WAV and FLAC); it was mixed by Lucas Oswald and mastered by Max Lorenzen in Austin.

We’ve also put together a limited-time bundle of all the SW-approved live albums, including:

– the live premiere of Rook,
– a seaside show in France from the Golden Archipelago tour,
– excerpts from the 3-hour Island Arc Live extravaganza, and
– the incandescent rock of the Jet Plane and Oxbow tour

In keeping with the themes of Jet Plane and Oxbow, 10% of the proceeds from both the record and the bundle will benefit the Equal Justice Initiative and Earthjustice. (The EJI works for reform of our overburdened, unfair and inhumane criminal justice system; Earthjustice works to protect our environment through legal action in the court.) Since the end of the Jet Plane and Oxbow tour, the live band’s been scattered to the winds, but we’ve all been busy with a wild variety of projects:

Lucas is releasing his second solo album, and recently toured in our pal Jesca Hoop’s band along with JPOB producer/engineer Danny Reisch. Emily has been doing freelance music supervision for film and TV (hire her!) when she’s not playing with metal bands and recording a new full-length with Snake Oil.

Sadie‘s been recording some very beautiful and eerie ambient music with her band Triptychs

And Josh has been playing drums all day, every day with Marmalakes and a bewildering array of other bands in Austin and around the country. You can see him on tour with The Dan Ryan.

As for me, Josh Halpern I’ve been trying to finish my book, The Feathered People, by the end of the year.

For those of you who haven’t heard me blabbing about it, it’s a book that doesn’t have much to do with music; it’s a long, wild travel/natural history yarn about a set of bizarre South American birds of prey called caracaras, the people who live with them, and what they can tell us about the unlikely history of their continent and the evolution of a mind like ours on another branch of the tree of life.

All my field research is done at last—I wrapped it up with an epic trip to Chile earlier in the year, where I helped paleontologists find dinosaur bones and nearly froze looking for flamingos and caracaras in the high Andes. Only the typing is left, and I’ve still got about half the manuscript left to go.

But I also haven’t left music behind. There’s a really exciting opportunity coming up for SW (+ old and new friends and allies) next year that I can’t tell you about yet (!!); but it’ll flip your lid, especially if you enjoyed our Lodger project.

Also, I’ve just finished up a new full-length album that Sub Pop will be releasing next year. All I can say about that one right now is that it’s not a Shearwater album; but I worked on it with some very gifted collaborators for over a year, and I can’t wait to release it.

Lastly, I’m writing this letter from DC, which I’ve visited several times this year for some epic and inspiring protests—but this time I was here at the American Film Institute’s documentary festival AFIDOCS, where Shivani, a short film for which I wrote and performed the score along with Dan and Emily from Cross Record, was shown as an official selection.

Shivani tells the story of a very special three-year-old girl in southern India with an unusual talent, a captivating face, and a surprising family history. So there’s plenty going on—though of course I miss performing. When I’ve turned in my manuscript, I’ll be itching to get out and play again, and to start thinking about another SW album.

More soon. But in the meantime, all best to you and yours.


Dear friends, I realized recently that it’s the tenth anniversary of the release of Rook, the second of our three Matador albums, and one that has a special place in my heart. (It’s also, strangely, the only SW LP that I no longer own; I’ve tried to convince Matador to reissue it on vinyl, but so far to no avail.)
It’s hard to remember some things about the sessions for it now, up at the Echo Lab in Argyle, Texas.  The electric guitar wasn’t speaking to me then for some reason, so I mostly played the studio’s piano and my little old acoustic on the album, which features some of my favorite performances from Thor, Kim, and Howard, as well as some beautiful string arrangements by Mark Sonnabaum.  Matt Barnhart guided the whole thing into shore, and was very patient with me when I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted – which, in those days, was most of the time.
I remember Thor dismantling a dead oak by the studio, turning its limbs into beautiful firewood that seemed to burn forever in the fire pit out back; I also remember the sound of coyotes and barred owls calling to one another in the ravine down below, and kettles of turkey vultures wheeling overhead.
We premiered the album in New York with a live performance at Florence Gould Hall (which you can find here), which included a string section, a grand piano, and our dear friend Elaine Barber on the harp—as well as two brand-new members in Jordan Geiger and Kevin Schneider—and I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous before a show.  I remember willing my hands to stop shaking before “leviathan, bound”, and a sweet little moment of silence in “lost boys”; and a great feeling of relief when it was all over. That was back before I really thought about writing songs that felt comfortable for me to sing, so the melodies seem almost absurdly high-pitched and complicated to me now when I listen back.

I’ll be posting a few odds and ends related to the album, but I don’t have a deluxe edition to sell you, or anything like that. What I do have is a feeling of deep gratitude to all of you, many of whom I first met way back then; you’ve been keeping me going ever since.
I feel very lucky to have met and worked with so many extraordinary people for so long.


Recorded live at Florence Gould Hall in NYC May 5th, 2008.

To commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the release of Rook, JM made a video with his thoughts on the album, and shows some artifacts from the making of the album. He also sings “I Was A Cloud”.

Jet Plane and Oxbow

Okkervil River members Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff began Shearwater as a channel for some more subdued songs they were working on together. Meiburg, whose master’s thesis at the UT geography department was on a subspecies of falcons common to the Falkland Islands, took the name from a class of migratory seabirds. Beyond his interest in ornithology, Meiberg’s prolific creative output includes writing (he’s a contributor to the literary magazine The Believer), and releasing Shearwater’s ninth(!) studio album.

Jet Plane and Oxbow, which was released on Sub Pop last month, has a particularly early 80s sound to it. Think Scary Monsters era David Bowie meets early Peter Gabriel. The new album receives an extra boon from film composer and percussionist Brian Reitzell, whose work includes the soundtracks for several Sofia Copolla films like The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation. Jonathan Meiburg with Emily Lee on keys, Sadie Powers on bass, Josh Halpern on drums, and Lucas Oswald on guitar came into Studio 1A today..

Shearwater’s eighth record, will be one of 2016’s most slept-on, and that’s a shame, because this is far and away the strongest thing the band has released since 2008’s Rook, and one of their best records to date. Masterful drummer Thor Harris has departed, which is perhaps one of the reasons there are a few more electronics and programmed beats here, but the band still hits hard, with some shimmering, towering songs like “Quiet Americans” and “Filaments,” with the thundering “A Long Time Away” being quite a high watermark for the band. As usual, Jonathan Meiburg and co. know when to tone it down, as on the beautiful “Only Child” and the closing track. Meiburg’s voice is, as ever, able to be forceful and gentle, often within the same song, going from rough to tender and back again. I hope people find this record while catching up on 2016’s music output, because it would be a small tragedy for a surprisingly good record, from a band who some have sort of turned away from, went unnoticed.

Shearwater 2.3.16

In addition to a couple different nifty t-shirts, some leftover copies of Missing Islands, and of course the new album in various formats, we have TWO exclusive tour releases. You’ve heard about the Complete Island Arc digital box set before (more details and pictures at the link), but we will also have something brand new: Safe Houses, an instrumental “deconstruction and reimagination” of Jet Plane and Oxbow by our producer Danny Reisch (buy the code now, download available February. 15th). Both releases are digital, but both come with physical art objects hand-manufactured by us.

Tonight we get to see you from the stage! And vice-versa, I suppose. Let me introduce you to the band, and the band to you. At left, on keys, is Emily Lee, also of Snake Oil fame. Besides running our Instagram account, she does a mean Ozzy Osbourne. Long-time guitarist, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and heartthrob Lucas Harrison Oswald and our leader Jonathan Meiburg surely needs no introduction.
To the right of JM is bassist Sadie Powers, also of Dead Fame and her own doom ambient duo project Discipline, whose secret Bowie tribute “Dolphins” is really worth hearing.
This selfie’s auteur, front and center, is our drummer Josh Halpern, whom you might have met before – he’s also a member our Austin friends Marmalakes (who are opening for us at the two Texas shows).
Not onstage but a very powerful presence: our long-time friend, sound man Jay Demko.
If you’ve seen us before, you may notice that our stage design is a little more impressive than usual – we’re doing our best to live up to the cover of Jet Plane and Oxbow.