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Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter

The Tractor

Friday, April 8

By 10 p.m. Friday night, it was just warm enough for a leisurely stroll

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Sound Hiccups Aside, Jesse Sykes Kicks Off Her Tour With the Help of Some Friends, Friday Night at the Tractor

sykes.JPG
Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter

The Tractor

Friday, April 8

By 10 p.m. Friday night, it was just warm enough for a leisurely stroll down Ballard Avenue without having to duck into the nearest open door for cover from the elements. It finally felt like the season was changing: The street was lined with arm-linked couples and groups of laughing, bar-hopping friends. The night was young, spring was in the air, and everyone was feeling it.

By the time we stepped into the packed corral of the Tractor, the crowd was feeling it too. It was a sea of smiling faces, loud chatter, and beer. Nate Lacy of Portland band Mimicking Birds was nearing the end of a solo set of intricate, guitar-picked melodies. Jesse Sykes began tuning gear with her band, and gushed about Lacy and their recent tour together while testing the mike. She then invited Stella Hawthorne--the shy 16-year-old daughter of a friend--onstage to play a few songs before the show, saying, "She's got something special, thanks for being so gracious." It was a kind gesture that Sykes' fans didn't seem to mind, and the crowd paid full attention to Hawthorne's two songs, which, despite her nervousness and having to switch out her guitar due to PA issues, had thoughtful lyrics and were well-played.

Sound problems carried into the show, bothering no one as much as Sykes, who wore a pensive frown. Her guitar wouldn't stay in tune, and after a few adjustments, the singer admitted, "We haven't played in a while; we've been recording some new songs." The show was the band's first official stop on their 2011 tour--their only stateside gig before heading to Europe--and Sykes said the band was "rusty." But she was grateful for the turnout, and worked in some new songs: "Come to Mary" and "Servant of Your Vision" (off their forthcoming new album, Marble Son), alongside older ones like "Station Grey" and "LLL."

Sykes' vocals were distinctive and mature--smoky, raspy, mysterious--and Phil Wandscher's guitar was gritty and wailing. The mood was full of reverb and resonant twang--a tried-and-true Americana formula if there ever was one, even if the band trailed into fuzzy jams from time to time.

Some sarcastic banter on and offstage kept things interesting--Wandscher shouted "Fucking dick!" to someone in the crowd after an indecipherable comment (revealing some shared personality traits with former band mate Ryan Adams), and Sykes chided him for talking too much. But Sykes was preoccupied, happier to talk up the talents of Lacy and Hawthorne than her own, stepping to the side as Wandscher dominated on lead guitar. The singer's fans were unfaltering, though. "Love you, Jesse!" a voice called out. Sound hiccups notwithstanding, it's hard to discourage a Seattle fan when their band is playing on one of the first nice nights of spring.

Overheard at the show: "Who knows, we could be the next REM."--Phil Wandscher.

"This is a song I'm gonna play called 'Spaceman,' my mom really likes it."--Stella Hawthorne.

The scene: Packed, excited Friday-night crowd, loud talkers, late 30's-40's.

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