Megafaun with Field Report | Santa Cruz | Review

By: Dennis Cook

Megafaun with Field Report :: 04.04.12 :: The Crepe Place :: Santa Cruz, CA

Megafaun and Field Report continue their tour tonight, April 6, in Tempe, AZ and roam together through April 14th in Saxapahaw, NC. Megafaun then plays a few opening dates with the Drive-By Truckers in April. Full tour schedule here.

Early in Megafaun's set I had a powerful urge to slip off my shoes and shuffle around dreamily and carelessly, eyes closed, smile broad. An undulating spirit inhabits the music of this North Carolina quartet, a friendly, slightly-holy ghost that embraces the soul dancing beneath our skin. While I remained shod, clinging to civilized restraint, it was apparent that this evening was more happening than gig, the band shepherding us towards breeze stroked green fields aglow with burnished light, a chance to dangle our toes in cooling waters, a respite from our rut delivered by realists with wide eyes and big, beating hearts.

The feeling one was present at an unexpectedly special gathering began soon after opener Field Report started to weave their spell, which overtook the room like a fragrant fog, surrounding and gently confounding. This is Field Report’s first national tour outside of their Wisconsin home base, and a more copacetic pairing with the headliner one could hardly imagine. With judiciously picked guitars, atmospheric keys, insistent, patient rhythms and bright peels of pedal steel, Field Report created a slow cooked sound, all the more flavorful for the control and sparseness of their touch and seasoning, a chefly appreciation of what the careful mingling of ingredients can achieve. Something about this band inspires metaphorical description, one wary of coming at what they do too directly and defusing its delicate, intricate magic. But make no mistake, these are conjurers true, bringing together appealing bits of raw edged Americana with a more benevolent Velvet Underground-y approach, where the mood and message are inextricably tied up in one another, a quiet wrestling match of emotions and deep sounds that occasionally exploded into dissonant shards – the contrasts in their music arriving with an off-hand deftness that speaks to long hours spent honing their vision to a fine point.

Field Report w/ Megafaun’s Brad Cook on bass
Bandleader-songwriter-guitarist Chris Porterfield - a former bandmate of the Megafaun guys in DeYarmond Edison with famous chum Justin Vernon - is one of those beautifully dented lightning rods that pulls dishwater tears and crippling joy from the human condition and transmutes them into songs that burrow tenaciously, his wounded, life-saturated voice the center of their storm. The whole band played with tuned-in awareness in Santa Cruz, serving the songs and pouring their own honest emotion into the mix. They remind one a bit of under-sung contemporaries Richmond Fontaine, 13ghosts and Will Johnson (Centro-matic, South San Gabriel), where the sticky, complicated things of life are what draws their attention - scabs picked at and examined, the footsteps leading up to each stumble and leap retraced with insightful honesty. As first impressions go, I’ve rarely had a better one, and I’m anxious as hell to hear their full-length debut album (arriving this June but y’all can get a taste of two tracks here).

Just before Megafaun entered the performance area - everyone stands on equal footing at The Crepe Place - I flashed back five years to the time I’d seen the core trio of brothers Phil (keys, banjo, guitar, vocals) and Brad Cook (guitars, vocals) and Joe Westerlund (percussion, vocals) perform at this venue as part of an expanded lineup of Akron/Family, the culmination of a week where I got to know these special, special, special musicians (for a glimpse of that time check out this review). The inner zeitgeist of Megafaun’s music was just forming, a wilder, rangier thing than what it quickly grew into, the trio showing increasing compositional flair and sophistication with each progressive release that their early shooting-arrows-into-the-cosmos style only hinted at. And here they were again, the main event now, and grown to a four-piece with live bassist Nick Sanborn. Even more clearly today, this is a band of unique talents offering uncompromising yet ever-more appealing music with each successive year, something opener “Real Slow” encapsulated well with a tactile fullness one felt they could trust-fall into. Right away, there was harmony and richness, a welcoming come-hither that only grew and grew in this intimate setting, a healthy handful of people clustered around the band, drawn more directly and actively into the experience with each selection.

Show me no resistance
Understate your case
Time behind your only saving grace
Stalwart disposition hard to penetrate
All you're looking for is a little space

Several times, Megafaun evoked After The Gold Rush-era Neil Young, particularly on tarnished country-rock shuffle “State/Meant,” which was full of ache and good intentions, a combination that made one’s muscles relax a little. What they do is hopeful but not hollow, the grind of days not forgotten in their verses but something better and brighter peeking in at the edges. Positive musical sentiments can often feel forced or just plain comic in the face of reality, so it’s especially impressive to me when a band can stimulate faith and good vibes, and not many pull this off as well as Megafaun. Even if our fate is uncertain, our hands shaky and voice hesitant, Megafaun engenders the feeling that it may all work out anyway while never dismissing doubt or fear, understanding that these are components of a truly examined life.

A trio of off-mic acoustic numbers with the band immersed in the center of the crowd may have been the highlight of the diverse-yet-effortlessly-flowing set, with Westerlund reminding us on the first selection that we are the light of the Lord – which is a wonderful thing to sing in public even if one has their own internal doubts – as accordion moaned and hands reached for the rafters. Afterwards, Brad remarked, “I’m sensing a nice sense of un-self-consciousness. We’re going to take advantage of that.” During the audience bolstered take on “The Longest Day” it hit me that this is a band one could enjoy to the exclusion of other music and always be satisfied, nurtured, challenged, and tickled in fresh ways. It’s never great to monomaniacally focus on one thing but it’s powerful when a band can get one thinking along these lines. It’s hardly what such open-minded musical omnivores would want for their fans, but in the moment, fully plugged into what they’re doing – as some, present company included, were at this show - it seems a splendid idea to love them and their creations with the same degree of love they pour into them and the experience of sharing them with others.

Waves crash on a vacant pier
Boats rock on a sea of fear
The tide is high, your hope still floats
Pull the anchor, cut the ropes
Ride the rails and sing the songs
In the pine's where we belong

The proximity of the ocean and forests to where we stood in Santa Cruz made the closing, exploratory, jam-dappled “Where We Belong” especially poignant. Unless one is a rare exception these days, the world does seem – at least to a degree – rocked by fear. It’s often used as a cudgel to control and dupe us into bad decisions by those in power, but there’s also legitimate instability most of us are grappling with every day. To be reminded that hope still floats has real force when delivered by messengers like Megafaun. With all the obvious failings and shortcomings out there it’s amazing to see goodness and caring given incarnation. What they do is easy enough to enjoy at arm’s length, but if one lets them in – opens up to that ghost we discussed earlier – then one will surely leave their shows warmer, fuller and quietly happier than when they walked in.

Megafaun Tour Dates :: Megafaun News

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[Published on: 4/6/12]

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