Wednesday, March 18, 2009
News of the Swirlies' reemergence from a lengthy hibernation for three strictly East Coast (sneaky flute) shows a few weeks back was a more than welcome surprise, and was instantly one of my most anticipated musical happenings of the new year. I'd seen the Boston-based band many times back in the day ("the day" being the early-90s), but somehow not once after the release of what would become my favorite Swirlies album - 1996's brilliant "They Spent their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons". Considering how much I worshipped their earlier work, the fact that they could unexpectedly peak so many years after my first exposure in '92 impressed the hell outta me. Subsequent releases were sporadic and spotty... a remix album, some hard-to-find compilation appearances, a bit of slightly less-focused material under the Yes Girls banner, and eventually 2003's "Cats of the Wild: Volume Two" album on Bubblecore. Live shows followed that release, but since then, nary a word, until... a trio of late-February dates dubbed the "Scituate or Bust" tour.
I had no expectations when I first heard about their return - I figured the lineup would include at least founders Damon Tutunjian and Andy Bernick, but beyond that who knew? They'd been through many personnel changes over the years, losing and gaining some great drummers, replacing the sadly-departed Seana Carmody (who went on to form the excellent Syrup USA, Shenzou 5, and do solo stuff) with the wonderful Christina Files (it was she who helped make "TSTWYDITGWOTS" so stellar), and shuffling through some ace second guitarists. So when I heard exactly who else the reconstituted Swirlies would include, I was pretty psyched: Longtime member (and former Wicked Farleys' guitarist) Rob Laasko, drummer Adam Pierce (from Mice Parade, who joined up post-"TSTWYDITGWOTS"), and the newest Swirlie, Deb Warfield (also ex-Shenzou 5 and current Broken River Prophet) on guitar/keys/and gorgeous vocals. All the pieces would be in place, great players all... but still, any Swirlies show is a gamble: You can witness either unerring precision, or a ramshackle, almost-off-the-rails affair (often both, at once). I'll say this, though - watching them perform, I've never had anything other than fun.
So, despite that lack of expectations, I did hold out hope that finally, 13 years after the fact, I'd get a chance to maybe, just maaaaybe, hear some of the songs from "Wild Youthful Days..." played live on a stage in front of me. When I first mentioned the scheduled Middle East upstairs show on the 'Nac, I even threw my humble request for the song "Sunn" out into the void, certainly not expecting it to be heard, or to my total delight, actually honored. But yes, they re-learned it, and played it, along with an abundance of other tracks off that album. Oh, the joy.
Their 16-song set including many perfect moments, a few shaky bits, some serious rocking, some goofy meanderings, some ultra-tight action, and some wild, youthful transgressions. In other words, it a full-on Swirlies show. And most importantly, it was fun. Powerful classics like "Jeremy Parker" and "Bell" ("Tall Ships" was setlisted but skipped) alongside late-era songs like "Le Bag" and "Rare Moment". Just when you were worried the set was almost too cohesive, then came the encore - a request for a meandering "Jack Buckey's Theme" was granted, into the brief, stripped down oldie "His Life Of Academic Freedom", and finally an enthusiastic cover of Flipper's "Sex Bomb", with Bullpen Catchers/Kudgel singer/guitarist Mark Erdody (and random fans in the front row) on guest vocals.
The full setlist...
Live at the Middle East Upstairs
in Cambridge, MA
on Saturday, February 28th, 2009
01. In Harmony Newfound Freedom
02. Vigilant Always
03. Le Bag
04. One Light Flashing I Love You
05. Jeremy Parker
06. Sounds of Sebring
07. Two Girls Kissing
08. You Can't Be Told It, You Must Behold It
09. Rare Moment
12. The Vehicle Is Invisible
13. San Cristobal De Las Casas
14. Jack Buckey's Theme
15. His Life Of Academic Freedom
16. Sex Bomb (Flipper cover)
For those keeping score, songs 1, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, & 13 were from "Salons"; 2, 5, 11, & 15 were on 1993's "Blonder Tongue Audio Baton"; 3 & 9 can be found on "Cats of the Wild: Volume Two"; and tracks 4 and 14 are Yes Girls numbers.
A few Swirlies links...
I can only hope these shows are signs of more activity to come, 'cuz I've got a couple more requests to make. Hey, I'm allowed to be a little greedy, aren't I?
live in cambridge, ma
on november 14th, 2008
previously: joy formidable - boston 2011
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