Shannon Stephens and Lindsay Fuller Gently Balance Southeast Engine's Anthemic Alt-Rock, Last Night at the Sunset

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Southeast Engine, Shannon Stephens, Lindsay Fuller

The Sunset Tavern

Tuesday, March 29

Celebrating the release of their new album Canary last night, Athens, Ohio, based folk-rock outfit Southeast Engine stopped in Seattle for a show with two of Seattle's finest, yet largely unsung, female vocalists: Shannon Stephens and Lindsay Fuller, who provided a bit of feminine balance to the evening--and the all-male group.

Fuller started things off with a solo acoustic set wearing a boxy train conductor's hat and a fully zipped Carhartt jacket. Her modest stage presence was in stark contrast to her low alto, which was acutely clear and resonant. Her tone was rich and full--somewhere between the bluesy wail of Jolie Holland and the grit and earnestness of early Dylan--and hopefully someday soon she'll be set up with a proper band. Her friend and singer Gregory Paul joined her in harmony for a song and only added more depth to her sound.

Sufjan Stevens' former bandmate (in his early group Marzuki) Shannon Stephens followed Fuller and kept a mellow pace with her plaintive folk songs. Indie rock has lately been accused of not having much to offer in the way of female vocalists, but last night was two for two. Stephens' voice was confident but gentle, and her mature lyrics--dealing with identity, sense of place, and family--guided her expressive vocal range. Her backing three-piece band (sometimes four, with trumpet) added further texture, and shortly after a bluesy cover of Nina Simone's "Sugar in My Bowl," the band made way for the headlining act.

Southeast Engine went on without much to-do, instantly launching into a twangy, harmony-heavy number, lead singer Adam Remnant immediately reminding me of Matthew Houck's (of Phosphorescent) soft, breathy vocals. Eyes closed, it'd be difficult to tell the difference, with that band's same up-tempo alt-country rhythms, harmony-soaked melodies, and images of the American landscape. But such similarities took nothing away from the set--it was exuberant and fun. "Anyone hear us on KEXP today?" Remnant asked. "I was scared."

The four-piece proceeded to rock through a few more songs before a long, deliberate pause, confusing the crowd. "You guys act like you've never seen performance art before," Billy Matheny, on keys, joked. "I'm not getting naked!" a member of the crowd replied. The boys were having fun, enjoying their moment, and goofing off between songs: an altered dynamic from the more serious sounds of their openers, but getting there was a nice crescendo nonetheless.

The scene: Chill, respectful, revered; comfortable mingling levels, a few brave dancing souls, 50/50 women-to-men ratio.

Overheard at the show: "I never know if my mike stand is right until I sing one." --Shannon Stephens, on testing her equipment.

"We love Seattle. We were here last year with Deerhoof. It was one of our favorite shows." --Southeast Engine to the crowd.

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