As Noah Gundersen said from the Crocodile stage, last night's performance was an important one for his band, the Courage. For the past year or so, Gundersen has been headlining smaller venues around town--the Q Cafe and the Comet, for example--and opening in bigger-name venues--like Neumo's--for other bands. Headlining the Croc is another milestone in a big year for Gundersen: he released an EP, he and his band moved from Centralia to Seattle, and in March, they'll head to the studio to record their first full-length album.
Noah Gundersen & the Courage headlined the Crocodile on Wednesday, Feb. 3. Breathe:Repeat and Sea Fever opened.
Given all these changes, it's not surprising that the Courage's sound last night felt different than previous shows. The band's opening song set the tone: a mellower, turned-down version of "Caroline," a jangly torch song from Gundersen's Saints & Liars EP. The Croc version was expansive, starting with an extended all-band jam that eventually took the shape of "Caroline." Gundersen then moved into a slowed-down, country-tinged cover of "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan, drawing and putting more emphasis on the phrase, "How does it feel?" from the song's legendary chorus. It's exactly the kind of song Gundersen should be covering: angry but still emotional, rabble-rousing but still melodic.
For the rest of set, Gundersen played calmer songs with a heavy blues influence. He stayed away from foot-stomping tracks like "Moss on A Rolling Stone," sticking with "Winter" and "O Death," two sedated near-ballads. Last night's set was also absent of Gundersen's spiritually-influenced songs. He didn't play "Jesus, Jesus," which he usually performs solo, after his band leaves the stage. It felt like Gundersen was actually working with the Courage--which, for the most part, has served as a backing band to his solo career--as actual, collaborative band members. They're slowly transitioning from separate moving parts into a functioning unit, and the music reflects that.
But Gundersen understands how to use melodrama to create impact, which his set's last song demonstrated perfectly. (It's a lesson that opening band Sea Fever could learn. Each song of their set felt over the top, as if a four-minute guitar solo was a necessary musical ingredient.) The song, which Gundersen said the band had never played live before, was classic Noah Gundersen. His voice was whisper-soft until the bridge, when his full voice is layered with violinist Abby Gundersen's, and all the emotion of the song is a captured in just a few bars. The lyrics told a story, in deliberate and direct language, of a man watching his ex-love marry someone else: "I'm still holding pieces of your heart." The song ends with just Gundersen and his guitar, his voice clear.
The band played a one-song encore: "Oh Momma," one of Gundersen's barn burners. The night's last two songs are the kind Gundersen is known for: confessional singer-songwriter and alt-country gold. If last night's set, taken on the whole, is any indication, the Courage's new sound could end up somewhere in between.