Epic, massive, grandiose––it was all of the above, and perhaps a bit more.
The resolute majesty of The Appleseed Cast's 2001 Low Level Owl: Volume I + II, at first hard to grasp, is harder still to forget. Ambitious, daring, career-defining records like it are scarcely found even once in any given group’s discography. Even more rare, perhaps, is the chance to see one performed live in its entirety. But the hushed crowds of a Thursday night in Hamden witnessed just that when, inside the embellished walls and ceilings of 295 Treadwell Street, the group revisited their double-disc opus for a once in a lifetime performance. Sure hope you didn't miss it.
A rash of groups have toured in recent years off classic crowd-favorite records, hoping perhaps to conjure up a bit of magic from their more formative years––Pixies played the seminal Doolittle, Jimmy Eat World toured their emo classic Clarity, Built to Spill cranked through Perfect From Now On––all to great, euphoria-inducing effect.
What made this evening-with-an-album especially memorable though was the sheer nature and scope of Owl––less a sequencing of hits than a single long, haunting and joyous groundswell of noise; an aching, layered work meant not to be squeezed from your tinny iPod headphones or wonky car stereo, but rather to emerge from towering amps, constructed via strewn-about guitar pedals and pounded out by (at times) multiple drummers. In short: it’s practically made for the stage.
Kicking off the night was Dreamend, a soaring Chicago shoegaze quartet––an outfit apropos for the extended dosage of 'Cast ahead. The brainchild of Graveface Records' Ryan Graveface, his stage-show featured the skilled hands of Lucas Oswald (splitting his time between keys and bass), The Appleseed Cast's own John Momberg as part of a two-drummer team, and a wild array of projected visuals. Led in by an eerie Alan Lomax field recording à la Godspeed! You Black Emperor, thick layers of guitar swelled as a myriad of beats pelted the mix on "In Her Little Bed We Lay Her."
Graveface would later inform me of how Lomax's gritty 1940’s folk chronicles served as early influence for his own label, which itself has birthed offerings from Monster Movie (ex-Slowdive), The Loose Salute (Mojave 3 offshoot) and Black Moth Super Rainbow.
While initially a bit sloppy (Momberg flashed a sardonic smile after early cuts), the group would later hit their stride––melding confident shoe-gazed’ post-rock with, at several points, the sheen of latter-day indie-pop. Graced by the intricate Fender-work of Appleseed's Aaron Pillar on the Explosions in the Sky-tinged closer "Passing", the group pulled off a powerful bookend to a sundry set.
After a brief delay marked by creepy on-screen TV clips and old voiceovers booming through the PA, Chris Crisci and company took the stage and promptly launched into Low Level Owl: Volume I's warm opening prelude, "The Waking of Pertelotte." From the opening notes of "On Reflection" onward, the five-some (joined by whiz-kid Lucas Oswald on keys and vox) absolutely took flight. Drums, wielded with military precision, rained down; twin guitar lines from Crisci and Pillar brought the albums’ every passage to life; bass was plucked along with the same zeal as back in '01.
The huddled masses gathered downstairs at The Space embraced the set as they would a dear old friend: with eager arms and earnest enthusiasm.
Each song melted into the next; "Doors Lead to Questions” gave way to the blissful "Steps and Numbers," the yearning "Sentence" bled into the weightless tones of "Birds of Paradise." Strict adherence was paid to the LPs' original track transitions and interludes.
Only during the slow-burning drone of Vol. I finale "View of a Burning City" did the enormity of the group's undertaking become apparent. The first disc ended much as it should: a deafening snare hit from Momberg and a perfectly-timed pull of the quarter-inch from Crisci's Fender Jaguar.
As the 5-piece took a brief 10-minute recess, fans gathering on the outside patio could be overheard excitedly chattering about what’s to come during Vol. II while under a steady plume of smoke. Meanwhile, folks continued to trickle in with the hopes of at least catching the second half of the performance.
Chris Crisci and company again took the stage, promptly firing back into "View Of A Burning City.” The second volume––a more instrumentally inclined, post-rock-leaning companion to Vol. I––swept up the entranced crowd over the course of its 50-minute, 12 track lifespan. Chilling in its own right, the lingering “Strings” began the band’s march. The tender 7-minute "Rooms and Gardens" was, by all accounts, a highlight of the evening. In the end, the ambient drone of “Confession” (track 26 of 26) faithfully bid the audience adieu after a nearly two-hour long set.
Crisci's vocals rang out crisp and clear the entire evening; bass, drums and keys all sounded true to the original Deep Elm release. In fact, I've never heard the group sound better––no doubt due in part to the fine handiwork of sir Ryan Drozd behind the boards.
More than just another carbon copy rendering of an album for a live audience, The Appleseed Cast’s fervor and sincere delivery moved their latest Manic show went beyond a nostalgic affair, into an unabashed celebration of the material at hand. It’s the kind of gig attendees will remember for many moons to come; the kind absent fans will kick themselves over during future Appleseed Cast visits.
Yes, it was definitely something special. Now, can we just get full album shows for Peregrine, Two Conversations and The End of the Ring Wars, please?
(Photos by Brandon Jennings)