Thursday, September 29, 2011

Megafaun at the Beachland Tavern

This past Tuesday night, North Carolina three-piece-turned-four-piece Megafaun made their third visit to the Beachland Tavern. With the much-hyped tUnE-yArDs show going on in the Ballroom at the same time, turnout for Megafaun was perhaps somewhat smaller than it might have been on another night, but the audience that did show up was very appreciative. Cara and I have been to all three of the band's Cleveland shows, so I guess it's safe to say that we consider Megafaun concerts to be don't-miss events.

For this visit, Toronto-based singer-songwriter Doug Paisley opened with a solo acoustic set. It was a very enjoyable collection of country-folk music; Paisley's vocals and guitar playing were both impressive. I was reminded of Damien Jurado's solo performances. I picked up Paisley's self-titled album after the show and am enjoying it a lot. If you'd like an introduction to his music, look up the song "Wide Open Plain." It's a great track.

After Paisley finished his set, Cara and I wandered downstairs to the Beachland's great vintage shop, This Way Out. I bemoaned the fact that all the clothes I tried on were too short for me before buying a used Haley Bonar CD. We saw her open for Andrew Bird a few months ago, and I've been really into her music recently.

We headed back up to the Tavern about 25 minutes after Doug Paisley finished playing, and I realized as we walked up the stairs that Megafaun had already started their set! This was a surprisingly short break, but fortunately, we hardly missed anything, a minute at most.

Megafaun kicked off the set with the sprawling, My Morning Jacket-esque roots rock of "Real Slow," the opening track from their just-released self-titled album. With lyrics like "People come from miles just to take a seat and watch the show," it's certainly an appropriate choice for a concert opener, and it sounded great. The band proceeded to play the next two tracks from the new album in order, before playing a nice mix of songs from all of their releases for the rest of the set.

There's a lot of variety in sound in a Megfaun concert - or album - as the guys are adept at a cappella or at wailing on their guitars, and pretty much anything in between. As a whole, I'd describe their sound as backwoodsy folk-rock with some experimental/prog elements and killer vocal harmonies. As you might guess, this translates into an excellent live experience.

A highlight of the show came when the band announced they were going to play a song from Gather, Form & Fly, and that we probably hadn't heard it like this before. As they started up with acoustic guitar, the song did indeed sound different from anything I knew, yet still familiar - was it "The Longest Day"? Yep, it was, and hey, guess what, that's my favorite Megafaun song! It's a gorgeous, bluegrassy number about losing a loved one, and it's a song I hadn't expected to hear live, largely because the album version contains some beautiful guest female vocals, and there are no women in Megafaun's touring band. Yet the reworked version was just as effective as the original, and I was thrilled to experience it. Interestingly, the next song in the set, "Everything," was another one which has guest female vocals in the album version. It was also quite different - and also great - live.

The intimate setting in the Beachland Tavern added a lot to the experience. As had happened last time, Megafaun played one song out on the floor, sans microphones. It's always really cool when a band does this (I'm also reminded of The Rural Alberta Advantage). Additionally, there was some nice band-audience interaction. At one point, the band confessed to us that they felt weird about saying "Hello Cleveland," because they feared we would think it too cliched. We assured them that it was cool and we liked it, which they seemed relieved to have cleared up. Better yet was what happened before the band's last song. Earlier during the show, before they played the gospelly "His Robe," drummer Joe Westerlund had made a comment about how tomorrow (Wednesday) was church night, and asked whether we knew this. So then, before their last song, Westerlund came off the stage and was going on some sort of crazy, slightly racy monologue. He was standing directly in front of Cara, and she chimed in "Church isn't 'til tomorrow." Westerlund followed her lead, singing "Church isn't 'til tomorrow" back at us, followed by some other improvised lines (at this point he also put an upside down plastic crate over his head; the whole thing was pretty hilarious) before he returned to the stage and the band played "Eagle" to round out their set.

I've been to a lot of great concerts in my life, but it's rare to experience something like that. It takes a special combination of band, audience, and venue. We'll definitely go see Megafaun again, any chance we get. They and Doug Paisley both come highly recommended, on album or (especially) in person.

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