Last Night: The Cave Singers, Dept of Eagles


Photo credit: Chris Kornelis

On the last night of their tour with Department of Eagles, the Cave Singers sounded gratified to finish in front of a hometown audience. In fact, freed of the need to charm a crowd of strangers, the trio played the night their way. They ignored their single "Oh, Christine," and started out slow, languidly building up momentum.

Frontman Pete Quirk sounded like a man who's spent the past decade shredding his

vocal cords and was finally getting to revel in the effect. With

the slow, soft numbers like "Seeds of Night" and "Helen," he cradled

the song in his scratchy, pinched voice. But by the time the band rolled into "Dancing Into Our Graves," Marty Lund striping the washboard, Derek Fudesco picking quick figures in his guitar, Quirk unleashed its charismatic weirdness, yelping, stomping, and twitching all the while, as much snake handler as rock musician.


Even on CD, it's clear that Cave Singers are a great live act. I wasn't sure how the Department of Eagles were going to compare. In Ear Park has been in my head for the past few months, but it's a headphone album. In fact, Daniel Rossen and Fred Nicolaus had only played one live show together before the tour began.

Their music is compelling because it's so dreamlike -- not in the sense of sounding wispy and ambient, but because of all the half-remembered echoes from a century of American popular music: Gene Autry here, Laurence Welk there, a carousel off in the distance.

To play live, Rossen brought in fellow Grizzly Bear bandmates Chris Bear and Chris Taylor. Maybe it was because it was the last night of their tour, maybe it was because they haven't fully figured out how to transpose their sound, but the show came off loose and disjointed. Rossen had a ton of guitar-cord problems, and drummer Bear was the only person on stage who actually moved. In songs like "No One Does It Like You," the layered rhythms and harmonies just sounded jerky, and all the sonic references that make their music so haunting were stripped out.

But when all four musicians let loose, like in the throbbing "Waves of Rye" -- one of the most straightforward songs on the album, anyway -- they sounded as rich and orchestral as they intended. And even if Rossen didn't have a tenth of Pete Quirk's stage presence, his voice did. On In Ear Par, Rossen floats his sighing melodies on the sea of sound as if they're backup parts. Live, he sounded engaged, clearly the band's focal point. While the show was disappointing, it'll be interesting to see how the experience of playing live changes Department of Eagles' sound in the future.
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