Great Lake Swimmers | 04.03.09 | S.F.

Words by: Lindsay Colip | Images by: Steven Walter

Great Lake Swimmers :: 04.03.09 :: Bottom of the Hill :: San Francisco, CA

Great Lake Swimmers :: 04.03 :: San Francisco
If your body had the ability to dissolve into nothingness, in the most pleasant and gentle of ways, you would want Great Lake Swimmers as your exit music. In life there are certain songs that make you want to float away on a cottony cloud, coast along on a piece of driftwood, gently absorb into the lush grass. Tony Dekker and company stand at the helm of making these beautiful, worry-evaporating songs and continue to deliver the goods on their latest album, Lost Channels (released March 31 on Nettwerk). The band played to an animated crowd at Bottom of the Hill. The audience, so devoted and supportive, went silent when Dekker and guitarist/banjo player Erik Arnesen took the stage to start off the show. Nobody wanted to miss a single thing.

Before the audience came to a hush for GLS, they tapped their feet and nodded their heads to opening act Kate Maki, a folk singer-songwriter from Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Maki started off the show on a quieter note, letting her guitar, harmonica and voice do the work. The songs were simple, rustic and approachable, and her vocals pure and clean, a la Nancy Sinatra or Zooey Deschanel (She & Him). When it was time to fill out the sound with single "Blue Morning," she had a drummer and keyboard player join her on stage, where they remained for the rest of the show. While most of Maki's music made you want to hop on the back of a moving train amongst a pack of free and easy drifters, her faster paced songs seemed born of a lively saloon in the Wild West. Seriously, I closed my eyes and half expected the room to be in Sepia when I opened them again.

Maki had such a reminiscent look and feel that it made you second-guess whether or not you knew her from childhood. Her haircut and clothing looked strangely familiar, her voice seemed recognizable, and you genuinely felt like she'd been your friend for ages. It makes perfect sense that Maki is a schoolteacher on the side. Throughout the show she made sure everyone was okay: "How you doin'?" and "How cute are you?" and when she was prompted to tell the audience to be quiet, she screamed "Shut the fuck up!" but then giggled and smiled so you knew she couldn't possibly mean it. Maki's temperament and throwback sound was indeed a treat. Her new album, On High, is available now.

Tony Dekker :: 04.03 :: San Francisco
As mentioned before, upon taking the stage, Dekker brought about a hush from the crowd. His voice, fully loaded with glide and swish, cast a spell on everyone from the first note. When his spirit-touched singing melted into the surrounding instruments it was pure bliss. GLS consists of singer/guitarist/songwriter Dekker, Arnesen (banjo, electric guitar), Greg Millson (drums), Darcy Yates (upright bass) and Julie Fader (vocals, keys). Their sound has the sweep of Explosions in the Sky mixed with the heirloom of Gram Parsons and the harmony of Iron and Wine. I've heard several people call their songs depressing and sad and maybe they are, but Dekker doesn't feel the need to sugarcoat, to pretend that the world is all peaches and root beer. He is a man who without hesitation puts on his galoshes and walks straight into the murky lake waters that surround him, letting the heavy overcast setting engulf and inspire. At one point Dekker said smilingly into the microphone, "Let's hear it for sadness!" He is very aware of the weight under which he sings and without having to encourage us, we embrace it fully.

Lost Channels, which should be noted is available on Dekker's favorite medium (vinyl), was recorded on the St. Lawrence River amongst the Thousand Islands, halfway between Toronto and Montreal. This designated "World Biosphere Region" was a perfect fit for GLS, allowing them to record in a natural, historic, acoustically rare and aesthetically stimulating environment. The new songs translated well from nature to venue at this performance, with "She Comes to Me In Dreams" and "Everything Is Moving So Fast" being two of the best of the night. The show, however, did not just consist of slow and crawling songs. When they picked up the tempo on "Your Rocky Spine" they had the whole crowd stomping their boots and singing along.

On this particular tour, GLS offers a bonus for fans, encouraging audience members to take photos and videos during "Pulling on a Line" and "Stealing Tomorrow." Once they've finished their 50-city tour, they'll take fan footage captured at all the shows and paste one full song together for their latest music video. When I talked to Dekker he seemed pretty keyed about it. "I think it'll look really cool," he said, "the same song but a mosaic look." Not a lot of bands are encouraging this kind of interaction with their audience, so kudos to them for thinking outside the box.

GLS make music that stirs something inside of you. Whether it's the lyrics (Dekker writes most of his songs lyrics-first), the easy melodies, the sound of a well played banjo or simply Dekker's voice, it stays with you long after you listen. And listen, you must.

Great Lake Swimmers are on tour now, dates available here.

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[Published on: 4/10/09]

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Falcor starstarstarstarstar Fri 4/10/2009 05:16PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


hands down one of the best shows I have seen in the last 5 years. Amazing songs, amazing band.

mattguff9 Fri 4/10/2009 07:12PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Looking forward to catching their show at 7th Street Entry in MPLS in a couple weeks. This is a really chill band with some nicely textured instrumentals and exquisite harmonies. Check them out!