Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Eccentricity of The Barr Brothers, Live at Joe's Pub

Experiencing a live show with the four musicians and countless instruments that make up the band The Barr Brothers is somewhat akin to stepping into a laboratory; it is as if you are witnessing the process and results, the ifs and thens, of some highly creative experimentation with sounds and instruments. We’re talking playing a guitar made out of a tackle-box; drawing a bow across a cymbal as if it were a violin; weaving thread through the strings of a guitar and manipulating the ends to create a haunting, whirring whisper. That kind of thing. And while it is increasingly enjoyable to listen to their recordings and try to tease apart the sounds in your head, it is fascinating to share a room with these incredibly innovative musicians and discover just where all those disparate sounds are coming from and how exactly they are being manufactured.

Preparing the stage for their set at Joe’s Pub on a rainy December night took almost as long as their Opening Act’s set (the very malleable voice of Jocie Adams and her five piece band, whose simple yet richly textured songs share an Americana sensibility with those of The Barr Brothers). And yet as soon as the cacophony of sounds began to emanate from the small corner stage, there was no question that it was well worth the wait.

There is something delightful about the humble ingenuity and eccentricity of The Barr Brothers. And not just the two brothers, Andrew and Brad, but also Sarah Page, who is redefining the harp, and Andres Vial as master of the drums, with his vast bag of tricks and unidentifiable instruments. The four work seamlessly as a team, no single part greater than another and each equally necessary to the composition of the songs. Despite the bold whimsy of their sound, these are musicians with a great sense of control and focus. Clearly, not much is required from them as performers when what they’re doing as musicians is so captivating.

Their set featured a few new songs mixed in with their increasingly popular staples such as “Beggar in the Morning” and “Deacon’s Son”. The songs bleed into one another, some even sound very similar, but the genre-defying use of rotating instruments keeps it all fresh and has an audience wondering what will come next. It could be a loud rock guitar line, could be the harp plucked like a mandolin, could be gentle three part vocal harmony and rambling lyrics, could be cowbells and impressively syncopated hand clapping. Most likely, whatever comes next will change the way the audience defines not only this band but also any given instrument.

Photo credit: Mike McNamara from the band's website.