Death Vessel @ Rock and Roll Hotel

photo credit: Sub Pop
Photo credit: Sub Pop

Joel Thibodeau–better known by the moniker Death Vessel–took the stage at Rock and Roll Hotel on Friday for the third night of his tour with Jesca Hoop and Shearwater. While these three artists could be loosely and lazily looped together into the indie-folk genre, each represents music’s genre-bending diversity. They are prime examples of artists with a very unique sound, Death Vessel being the most extreme of the three.

When you hear the name “Death Vessel,” you probably imagine a dude dressed in all black, wearing a studded collar and an inexplicable number chains, screaming over loud electric guitars and percussion. Well, after a simple Google search, you would be very surprised and intrigued. Not only does Joel Thibodeau have a celestial grace about him physically, especially in the above photo where he’s ascending from the heavens, but he also has a voice that will strike you as nearly impossible. From this slender, grown man with long, dark hair, comes a smooth yet powerful falsetto that gets into your bones and writhes around until you’re humming and wishing you could sound half as elegant. Joel’s vocal performance will undoubtedly capture your attention and reel you in from whatever shock you first felt by relaying the equally as tender narratives of his songs.

With a four piece band behind him, Joel took the stage after a very entertaining Jesca Hoop and broke into the hauntingly beautiful “Ejecta,” a track with a slow tempo reminiscent of trekking through a foreign land. Both soothing and concerning, the profundity of “Ejecta” has a way of gaining momentum with each verse and emotionally investing the listener.

photo credit: Sub Pop
Photo credit: Sub Pop

“Ilsa Drown,” the collaborative track between Joel and Jónsi of Sigur Rós, further elaborates on the melodic theme shared by “Ejecta.” With a benevolent tune supported by the subdued vocals of Jónsi and Joel, “Ilsa Drown” is both refreshing and comforting. In a rooftop interview before the show, Joel shared with us that he and Jónsi each wrote half of “Ilsa Drown.” It tells the story of a Windigo–an elusive monster that Joel drew inspiration from while reading a book about Icelandic folklore. Having recorded the entirety of Island Intervals in Iceland, the album has significant traces of influence from the distant island. Simple yet complex, mellow yet exciting, Island Intervals is a clear representation of the land where it was crafted.

 “Velvet Antlers” and “Mercury Dime” brought a quicker, catchier beat to the show. However quiet and removed Death Vessel appeared during the initially dark and mysterious set, they were now transformed into a youthfully mature and softly revitalized band of artists, each inflicted with discreet intention. If the drama of theater is what you look for in a show, Death Vessel might not be for you, but if you’re looking for humble and alluring music, then you’ve found the right place.

photo credit: Sup Pop
Photo credit: Sup Pop

Finishing off the night was Texas band Shearwater, which is now headed by Jonathan Meiburg. The band enchanted the audience as each song transitioned from soft melodic pianos to roaring bass and synth before suddenly returning to its origin. This musical versatility and control within Shearwater’s songs was expertly translated to their onstage performance. One notable song was the performance of “Home Life”, a song written about Jonathan’s childhood in Baltimore that was inspired by a Van Halen song. It perfectly encapsulated the band’s undulating musical intensity and ended with Jonathan passionately beating on his guitar, a final catharsis for the emotions trapped within “Home Life.” While select songs from the performance were exceptional, there did seem to be an overarching style used by Shearwater in their musical compositions that, when taken in small doses, can be interesting and rewarding. Shearwater is obviously a product of intense passion and inventive instrumentation; while they don’t always pull it off, they sure put on one hell of a show.

–Maddy Wolpow-Gindi and Ryan Call

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