"More music!" someone in the crowd yelled. "Play more songs!" shouted someone else. And Hey Marseilles did just that, deep into the night.
Hey Marseilles, a seven-piece from Seattle, fall near the top of my "Bands That Should Be Bigger" list. I am a sucker for indie-pop bands with cellos, violas, trumpets or really any other atypical instrument, and Hey Marseilles have them all. The rich assortment of instrumentation, paired with Bishop's charming but husky voice, lead to cheerful pop songs that tend to start simple before building and bursting with melodic spirit. Hey Marseilles is a really special group, like what might happen if seven members of a chamber orchestra decided to break off and start a rock band.
Before Hey Marseilles came Young Buffalo, a band from Oxford, Miss. The show started off a bit slow, but I think the band won the whole crowd over with its final two songs, "Upstairs" and "Catapilah." Unlike the rest of the set, which had a lo-fi surf rock feel, these two cuts had a more bubbly, Vampire Weekend-like sound. The last two songs almost sounded like a different band; I would have enjoyed seeing that band for a whole set.
Young Buffalo ranges in age from 19 to 21, probably half the age of some of the members of the audience. As a whole, the crowd appeared a lot older than I expected, except for these two cute little kids, maybe two or three years old each, who got to enjoy the show from the comfort of their parents' arms.
The seven musicians of Hey Marseilles, sporting various colors of chino pants, as if J-Crew sponsored their wardrobe, began with a moody instrumental number called "Demian." As more instruments appeared, the crowd began to gather around the stage. Whispers disappeared, and fans left behind their seats and beer bottles in favor of the dance floor.
The set went back and forth between songs from Hey Marseilles' first album, "To Travels & Trunks," released in 2008, and their new album, "Lines We Trace," released about a month ago. It was surprisingly easy to tell where each song came from. The songs from "To Travels & Trunks" are cool and colorful and peppered with trumpet solos and handclaps, while the newer songs give off a vibe vaguely reminiscent of fellow Washingtonian's Death Cab For Cutie's lighter material. In fact, if you closed your eyes while Hey Marseilles played "Looking Back," you could have easily thought Ben Gibbard provided those swooping vocals.
As the band paused to catch its breath, or maybe to drink the round of shots Young Buffalo bought them (I really can't remember), a few members of the audience began to clap a recognizable beat. The clapping soon spread to the stage, and all seven members of Hey Marseilles, plus the four Young Buffalo boys all squeezed onto the stage to clap the opening beat of "Rio." The buildup filled the room with a palpable tension until the song finally burst, with trumpets, drums and gleeful words filling the air. I don't think it could have been done any better.
"Bright Stars Burning," "From a Terrace" and "Someone To Love," the next three songs, much subtler and without all the confetti and glitz of "Rio," were still equally exciting to hear live.
"Someone to Love," which Bishop performed solo, blew me away. "This one's kind of downer, in like, a really hopeful way," Bishop said to introduce the song. The crowd didn't seem to mind the heart-string tug though, and it actually served as nice moment to take a breather before getting back to dancing.
Even Hey Marseilles' "downers" follow a common path that includes starting calm and delicate before building into triumphant and full finales. "Cannonballs" might be the best example of it, but you'll notice that more than half of Hey Marseilles' music ends much more vibrantly than it starts. The builds work well live because each song provides its own little climax, slowly adding more and more until no more can fit.
This show, the final on a five-week tour, was only Hey Marseilles' second time playing in St. Louis, the first being an opening set for Sea Wolf at Plush. When Bishop told the crowd this, a girl raised her drink into the air and exclaimed, "Here's to a third!" and the crowd cheered. Here's to a third, Hey Marseilles. Please come back soon.
Hey Marseilles set list:
To Travels and Trunks
Dead of Night
Hold Your Head
Bright Stars Burning
Someone to Love