If the sold out crowd at Turner Hall on Saturday night expected to hear songs by the respective bands led by Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar -- Death Cab for Cutie and Son Volt -- it didn't get its wish.
Farrar and Gibbard -- the unlikely, but satisfying, duo that collaborated on "One Fast Move or I'm Gone," a cycle of 12 songs inspired by Beat writer Jack Kerouac and his work, "Big Sur" -- focused on their new project during the show, which clocked in a just under an hour (an encore stretched the total running time to just over an hour).
I was curious to see how Farrar and Gibbard would flesh out the 12-song record -- released in October along with a Kerouac documentary of the same name -- into a full set.
I heard that the duo had been covering a Tom Waits tune -- Waits' "Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)" figured into the encore -- but would they mine their other bands' catalog for material? No, they would not (although each performed one tune from his past, unrelated to their high-profile bands).
Opening -- as does the record -- with the melodic, country-inflected folk pop of "California Zephyr," which sounds like nothing less than early Son Volt with Gibbard as guest vocalist. Indeed most of the music -- which swerves from folk to country to rock to blues and all the way back again -- conjures Farrar's musical past more than Gibbard's.
However, like Farrar, Gibbard has an immediately recognizable voice that puts his imprimatur on anything to which his lends that voice.
Following the trail blazed by the record, the duo -- backed by Son Volt's Mark Spencer on pedal steel and keyboards, DCFC bassist Nick Harmer and The Mountain Goats' Jon Wurster on drums -- followed with Farrar's "Low Life Kingdom," Gibbard's melancholic "Williamine" and "All in One" before jumping ahead "Big Sur" and the title track.
The band was tight and adept at pushing the contrasts between the ballads and the rockers, squeezing every bit of emotion from the former and all the dynamics from the latter.
It rocked out on Farrar's "Breathe the Iodine," which has a guitar figure that calls to mind Elvis Costello's "Complicated Shadows." And it chugged like a steam train on the infectious "The Roads Don't Move."
To their credit -- according to this long-standing Son Volt and DCFC fan -- they avoided the temptation to distract themselves and us from "One Fast Move" by plucking set filler from their oeuvres.
And they avoided long-winded yakking about Kerouac, preferring, instead, to let the songs do the talking. More isn't always better and in this case, what the duo chose to omit served to strengthen its performance.
Seattle's Sera Cahoone opened the show with a 40-minute solo set, lacing her melodic, low-key acoustic-guitar driven alt.country folk with de rigueur harmonica.
Kudos to the Turner Hall brass not only for a suitable volume level, but an on-time start and a mere 10-minute break between performers.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.