Paean spent eighteen months working on its debut full-length, Songs For Us To Sing. Three of the band's six members are siblings, and the album was recorded in a studio in their parent's garage. So there was no pay-by-the-hour recording sessions, just twelve songs that are finally fine-tuned enough to send into the world.
To help celebrate the release, Paean got friends Mehko & Ocean Birds to play before them and Bad Weather California to play after. An impressive lineup under any circumstances, and this was hardly that: In addition to Paean's CD release, the show also marked Mehko & Ocean Birds last before a hiatus (or "sleepless hibernation" according to the myspace).
Mehko & Ocean Birds will be back. Songwriter and primary vocalist Stephen is going somewhere for the summer, but it is characteristic that he prefers to explain it this way: "The sun is not up."
Who knows what, exactly, he means by that, but it is best understood like his music: In broad strokes of feeling. For this, the final show before the hibernation, Stephen found a one-piece fuzzy plaid pajama suit, with short sleeves and short pant legs, which he changes into immediately before the set. He explains later that the idea is to transport everyone to a sleepover where everyone has crushes on each other. "But we're not nervous," he says.
It sounds strange, I know. But there is a purity involved -- he's asking everyone to feel like a little kid again. And this is a band that is exceedingly charitable with the spotlight -- all members are encouraged to sing at all shows. This time, they took the everything-I-need-to-know-I-learned-in-kindergarten mentality a step further by making shakers to give to everyone in the crowd. They were Easter eggs filled with popcorn kernels.
Hopefully, the sun will be up again soon. Stephen and the half-dozen, give or take, extremely talented musicians that make up Mehko & Ocean Birds will be missed this summer.
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Paean took the stage to the biggest crowd of the night. Friends and family got the memo, of course, but there were an encouraging number of attendees with no personal connection to the band. The fact that these guys spent a year and a half working on their album is telling of the sort of craftsmanship that goes into the songs. These are aching stories of regret told by a band that is built on a noisy post-punk base with a pair of acoustic instruments up front.
The instruments in question: An acoustic guitar played by Dave Maddocks and a violin played by his sister Anna, and they both lend the music a sort of troubadour vibe. Dave is also the band's lyricist and lead singer. He sounds like Conor Oberst sometimes and almost like Isaac Brock at others. When the songs are at their most fraught, his voice is all his own, urgent and breathy and vulnerable.
Perhaps a third of Paean's set was dedicated to new material, stuff that isn't on the album. If it is any indication of direction, the band is aiming bigger, shooting for melancholy rock epics with movements.
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Bad Weather California played last and was certainly the most seasoned band on the line-up, which is probably why it garnered the closing spot even though it was Paean's release. The crowd had thinned considerably by the time the act took the stage, which is crazy. No one should be leaving a venue when these guys are about to play.
It is well-documented at this point that Bad Weather California want nothing more than to play music people will like: "You guys," Chris Adolf sung-spoke, "I don't think there's enough dirty dancing at these indie shows."
The band's myspace headline reads "sunshine and guitars," and that is exactly right. The band's shows feel like a house party regardless of the venue. There's whole thing feels very off-the-cuff, with Adolf playing slacker hype man, leading shout-alongs with the rapt audience, everyone else in the band hollering off-microphone between songs.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: All three bands are among my favorite local acts. Random Detail: Dave Maddocks was wearing a Sour Boy, Bitter Girl T-shirt. They're labelmates on Act So Big Forest, and if you haven't heard Sour Boy, Bitter Girl, it's worth noting that they're great. By The Way: You can catch Bad Weather California with Akron/Family and a slew of local acts at a three-day residency at Quixote's later this month.