Since the release of its first album in 1994, this jazz-influenced indie-rock group made up of Sam Prekop, Archer Prewitt, John McEntire and Eric Claridge has been assembling intricate and, at times, surprisingly heavy compositions for their devoted fans.
The Luminary Center for the Arts provided the stage for this stop on a tour in support of the band's latest release, "Runner." Prekop's airy vocals bled into the music, giving the impression that they were meant to complement it, rather than dominate. Prewitt chimed in at different times and even provided the lead vocals on a few songs, but his main contribution was on guitar. McEntire, also of the band Tortoise, mastered the drums and Doug McCombs filled in for Eric Claridge on bass.
For the first few songs, the four stood calmly on stage, playing oh so seriously. Breaks between songs were silent, devoid of banter with the crowd or introductions of band members. The backdrop was a blank, gray movie screen. Blue lights focused on the four as they played, unwavering.
All of this stark, blank seriousness made the music even more vibrant, interesting and engaging. Almost from the very beginning I had the urge to close my eyes to listen so I could better absorb all the layers and nuance. During the middle of the set, Prekop strummed quickly to produce a metallic ping, ping, ping that sounded like rain drops. Prewitt made the sound of waves during another song and while the rest of the band maintained their staid presence, he suddenly jumped to life as if he was one of those child's toys where pressing the bottom loosens the string that connects the limbs to the body perched on top, making the arms and legs wilt and contort. McEntire's skill on his wood-paneled drum kit was highlighted during the last song which had a very Radiohead-like quality to it, incorporating synthesizer and pre-recorded sounds with more organic, spontaneous instrumentation.
After insistent and urgent clapping and cheering from the audience, the band came back out and played a few more. Throughout the show, the lyrics were difficult to discern which could have been intentional, but the sound in the room could have been the culprit. It was similarly difficult to hear the lyrics of opener Matthew Friedberger, one half of the duo known as the Fiery Furnaces. Friedberger came on stage and shared that he wanted to tell us a 40-minute ghost story. And tell us he did, though I'm not certain I understood it.
True to his word, he performed for 40 minutes, without a break, during which time he shot back and forth between two keyboards, making stops in between to talk or sing his tale.
The Sea and Cake -- its name inspired by a song called "The C in Cake" by Gastr del Sol -- was a pleasure to experience. There was a confidence and certainty conveyed in the music that made me feel like I was in the presence of skilled and passionate musicians. They simply enjoy making music with nothing to prove -- because after releasing eight albums and performing shows like this one, there's no need to prove anything.