“I don’t know. I feel a bit naughty playing here”, confides Jonathan Meiburg, singer with the Austin, Texas outfit Shearwater, sitting in front of a grand piano in St. Giles in the Fields, an 17th century church in London’s West End. As a packed audience crammed pews to watch in rapt appreciation, Shearwater settled in to give their sermon of the day.
As explained in great detail here, Shearwater’s fourth album Rook has been one of the most astonishingly beautiful and incredibly crafted records released this year. Having caught the band back in September at the un-rock and roll-like Bush Hall, it seemed Shearwater weren’t intent on playing the expected venues, which can only explain their decision to take their hallowed sound to a more hallowed ground.
With a set largely comprised of material from Rook and its predecessor, the equally spellbinding Palo Santo, Shearwater took to the stage, with Meiburg walking to the grand piano that had just been wheeled in front of the pews, beginning the show with Rook opener “On the Death of the Waters”, a song that’s hushed beginnings belie its epic rises and falls, the band coming together to create a thunderous cacophony that as not much announces their arrival, but obliterates it.
The set played out in a similar fashion as the prior Bush Hall show, but this time round, the surrounds of St. Giles added a certain solemnity to proceedings, the acoustics of the church giving a resonant depth to even the quietest of moments, Meiburg’s soaring falsetto sounding indelibly angelic. Switching to banjo for the rhapsodic howl of “Red Sea, Black Sea” Meiburg whips the band into a wild frenzy to the point where you realise how uniformly intense Shearwater can sound, much of this in debt to drummer Thor Harris’ percussive brilliance and the array of bizarre sounding instruments he has at his disposal.
Introducing “I Was a Cloud” about a bird he found under the wing of a plane in the Falklands is something that would elicit chuckles from the crowd of any other band, but from Shearwater it’s seemingly appropriate, nay expected, with Meiburg being one of music’s first rock and roll ornithologists. The inclusion of a cover of Clinic’s “Tomorrow” from their recent album Do It! was an unexpected surprise, in part due to a tour through America they had shared. Closing with the epic grandeur of “Home Life”, Shearwater wrapped up one of the most dazzling shows Webcuts had seen all year, and one where going to church felt like the only place to be on a Saturday night.
Red Sea, Black Sea
The Snow Leopard
I Was A Cloud
Tomorrow (Clinic cover)
La Dame Et La Licorne