Laura Veirs and Liam Finn Friday, May 9, 2008 The Walnut Room Better Than: Six Months in a Leaky Boat.
Digital looping pedals, which have been around for at least the past two decades, have made it fairly simple for one musician to sound like multiple musicians. A guy can lay down a phrase on guitar, sample it and have it loop repeatedly, and then layer other guitar, bass, drum or vocal parts over it. Last Friday at the Walnut Room, both Liam Finn and Laura Veirs made ample use of the looping pedals.
Finn used a looping pedal throughout most of his set, often looping guitar parts and then scurrying over to his sparse drum kit made up of a snare, a tom and a ride cymbal. The guitar loops he created on the fly were seamless, which can sometimes be a bit tricky. And it all worked wonderfully, making it sound like at least four people were playing at times. EJ Barnes also filled out the set with some great back-up vocals, and occasionally playing the Autoharp and percussion.
New Zealand-based Finn, who’s the son of Neil Finn (Crowded House and Split Enz), ran through most of the excellent debut album, I’ll Be Lighting, sounding a bit like his dad at times, especially on “Fire in Your Belly,” “Wise Man” and “Remember When.” Near the end of “Second Chance,” which is the strongest cut on the album, Finn frenetically beat the drums. The dude was a deft guitarist as well, especially the set’s closer “Lead Balloon,” where he seemed to be channeling Hendrix at one point. The song eventually turned into a fuzz-filled chaotic climax with Finn and Barnes screaming their lungs out and passing what looked like mini-Theremin back and forth.
That beautiful noise swell would be the storm to Veirs’ fairly calm set. Veirs opened her set with “Spelunking,” which was inspired by growing up in Colorado Springs, as was “Snow Camping,” which she played later in her set. She played a lot of songs from her latest album, Saltbreakers, including “Ocean Night Song,” “Nightingale,” and “Cast a Hook in Me.” In addition to playing tune from her previous releases, she also played two songs from her from Two Beers Veirs, a five-song EP of old country and blues tunes that she’s selling on her tour. She strapped on her banjo and got the crowd clapping and stomping on the old timey number “The Coo Coo Bird,” which is on the EP, as was the next song, “Freight Train,” written by Elizabeth Cotten. She told the audience that Cotten, who played guitar upside down and backwards, was a maid of Pete Seeger’s family and that they essentially discovered her. Veirs also said her father used to Cotten’s song for her when she was young.
While her childhood in Colorado Springs might’ve inspired a lot of songs, she’s been living in the Northwest for a long time, most recently in Portland, Oregon. She said that since she doesn’t see too much in Portland, a lot of her songs are about the sun. “I don’t know much about the sun any more,” she said before she launched into “Song My Friends Taught Me” from 2003’s Troubled by the Fire, which was followed by “Magnetized” from 2005’s Year of Meteors.
Veirs used her loop pedal for about half of her set, sometimes looping a guitar phrase and playing solos over it. She also created vocal loops that acted as back-up vocals. About halfway through her set, she even referred to her loop pedal as her “band,” and said it gave her a little more room for experimentation.
As Veirs came back for her encore, a few people in the crowd started yelling out song names, and she honored their requests with “Rialto” and “Riptide,” which was a stunning way to close her set.
Personal Bias: A yin and yang bill of sorts, but it really worked. Random Detail: A guy in the crowd looked a hell of a lot like Finn. By the Way: Laura Veirs said her song “Snow Camping” was inspired by a camping trip with her father where “it got cold and scary.”