Concert review: Second time is the charm for Yellow Ostrich (with Samuel Fickie and Strand of Oaks) at the Gramophone, Wednesday, November 7
Braced against the chilly night, standing under the glow of neon lights, we waited for the doors at the Gramophone to open. In front of me stood a devoted fan with a “Ghost” — as in the newest album from headliner Yellow Ostrich — held nonchalantly in his hands.
As the staff inside the club hurriedly prepared for the show, we could hear the sound check and knew immediately we were in for a great night.
Yellow Ostrich — composed of Alex Schaaf, Michael Tapper and Jon Natchez — visited St. Louis this past summer as the opener for Los Campesinos. Schaaf mentioned that previous appearance several times during the set, and people clapped in appreciation of Yellow Ostrich’s second booking here in St. Louis. I won’t compare the two shows here because there really isn’t much they had in common (other than the obvious). The first was at Plush and the band opened. Last night, on the Gramophone’s cramped yet inviting stage, Yellow Ostrich was the one everyone had come to see. Maybe the band felt the confidence that came with the promotion, but I don’t think it needed the boost.
If there is one theme that ran through Yellow Ostrich’s set, other than the undeniable fact that its members are all very skilled musicians, it would be that all of their songs are layered and interesting while still being just really fun to listen to.
This interplay shown through on “Elephant King,” which started out simply with Schaaf’s beautiful voice, then, after he declared, “You can’t take my kingdom away from me,” Natchez and Tapper joined in and created the sounds of battle. Tapper pounded on the drums, giving the song momentum and a heartbeat. Natchez worked his magic behind a table crowded with keyboards and other devices. A multi-instrumentalist, Natchez has also worked with the Antlers and Beirut. When a little something extra is needed, he brings it. Whether irregular and haunting tones that mimic undersea chatter during “Whale” or through the low, windy notes of the clarinet on “Hold On,” his additions accentuate the fine vocals and percussion offered by Schaaf and Tapper.
The show closed with “Marathon Runner.” The song stood out for me when I saw them this summer and it stood out again. Though Schaaf’s voice rings out confident and clear, this certainty belies lyrics which describe a struggle and search for meaning in life; it’s something we all face. This struggle was evident in the offerings of the two openers, as well.
Samuel Fickie kicked off the night and treated the audience to tender guitar picking and even more tender lyrics which alternated between funny and just plain painful. Of course, love can be both and such was his theme, delivered in witty lyrics. Strand of Oaks — featuring vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Tim Showalter — bridged the stripped down singer-songwriter performance which preceded him and the complicated and adorned music of Yellow Ostrich. Showalter’s voice echoed Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses in that it has the same far away, airy quality. That voice was a wonderful complement to the music he made, making it even darker and more melancholy.
While it’s said that the third time is a charm, the musicians of Yellow Ostrich need no added charm should they come through town again. And hopefully, they will.