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S. Carey concert review

Alex Kilpatrick | Monday, September 27, 2010

There have been many drummers to break out on their own and release solo albums, from Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s solo debut as Foo Fighters on his 1995 self-titled album to Radiohead percussionist Phil Selway’s recent album “Familial” to The Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney’s LP “Feel Good Together” under the side project Drummer. And now, Bon Iver’s drummer, background vocalist and pianist Sean Carey is emerging as a solo artist in his own right, having recently released his debut “All We Grow” as S. Carey and currently on tour with his backup band.

Drummer-turned-singer S. Carey performed at Subkirke in South Bend on Thursday night. The venue itself is one worthy of praise. Subkirke, a phonetic acronym for SBCRC, stands for the South Bend Christian Reformed Church. The church, on North Hickory Road in South Bend, opened a concert hall as n experiment in musical outreach to college-age young adult fans. The hall offers 500 seats, complete with pews and folding chairs, as well as quality acoustics for quieter bands with devoted fans who want to hear the music in a smaller venue.

Thursday night’s performance saw about 30 devoted fans total, mostly in their college years. The intimate atmosphere allowed for a truly spectacular performance, as everyone sat in silence and awe as a musician that they respected performed his entire discography to his best abilities.

Carey recorded solo on his album “All We Grow” over a period of two years during breaks between touring and recording for Bon Iver, but he was joined Thursday night by three backing band members, including a cellist, a barefoot percussionist, and a bass player.

Carey started out the show with album opener “Move,” a mainly instrumental piece with Carey on acoustic guitar and the percussionist on vibes, running violin bows along the fronts of the keys to create experimental sound effects, accompanied by quiet vocal harmonies. The experimental folk band then transitioned into “We Fell,” which began with three-part vocals and continued to build along with Carey’s piano playing keeping time underneath.

After a brief introduction, Carey then moved on to the LP’s first single “In the Dirt,” an upbeat chamber pop-style piano-driven track that evokes rain imagery and segued into another instrumental, “Rothko Fields,” composed on the album for French horn, bassoon and flute but which subsisted during the live performance on piano, vibes, cello and bass.

The band played the melancholy “Mothers,” backed mostly by lyric-lacking yet resonating vocal harmonies, and another instrumental, “Action,” on which Carey performed a dramatic snare, before the show’s second break during which Carey quietly announced, “We just played a few songs there. We really like segues.”

After performing a few more tracks off the new album, Carey decided to perform a cover by one of his favorite artists, Seattle-based singer-songwriter David Bazan, lead singer and front man of former indie band Pedro the Lion.

“I’ve been listening to David Bazan and Pedro the Lion for a while so it’s nice to be able to play one of his songs,” Carey said. “This is called ‘Lost My Shape.'”

Carey’s rendition managed to stay true to Bazan’s folksy sound while taking slight poetic licenses with the song’s instrumentation.

Carey ended the show with one last track from “All We Grow,” the experimental “Broken,” claiming, “This is the last song we know.” The bass player moved to the back of the church for the final song to accompany on organ.

Carey knew how to make a live performance what it should be — an opportunity to expand on an album’s instrumental and conceptual content and experiment with different sounds — which translated well with Subkirke’s superb acoustics and enveloped the audience in the band’s music.