Dry the River at The Tractor Tavern (all photos by Bebe Besch)
“Seattle doesn’t know what it’s missing,” a fan hanging out after Dry the River’s set explained on Wednesday night. It’s true, only a small turnout, maybe half of the venue’s space, was occupied for the British folk quintet who are currently on their first headlining US tour. After stopping in Seattle last spring with Bowerbirds and the release of their debut Shallow Bed, this proper headlining gig at The Tractor Tavern was sadly sparse, but those of us in attendance were graciously rewarded.
A Dry the River set is particularly fascinating because the band knows how to capitalize on buildups. During “Weights & Measures” this is extremely clear as lead singer Peter Liddle and fellow members Scott Miller and Matt Taylor join in singing a cappella away from their traditional microphones, only to return to them for an explosive channeling from second verse onward. All of their folk-inspired rock is influential on an audience member in this way; songs that could easily be played calm, sounding exactly like recorded material, is anything but at a Dry the River show. Liddle’s vocals are extremely venerable, as if to crack at any moment, and the energy out of each band member, especially guitarist Scott Miller with swinging mane, is purely untamed. Liddle even took to rocking while standing atop Jon Warren’s drum kit for their final jam before disappearing backstage.
As a final encore, all of Dry the River (minus drums) stepped into the center of the crowd to perform an unplugged “Shaker Hymns.” Once again, Liddle’s, Miller’s and Taylor’s voices swarmed together for an overwhelmingly triumphant last song. Though the Tractor Tavern’s show was small in number, Dry the River thanked Seattle for being loud in voice, and explained that they’d be back again sometimes soon, next time most likely with a new album.
The night’s single opener was Rough Trade’s Houndmouth, a four-piece folk outlet who has been touring with Dry the River for a few weeks now. It’s hard to believe that the group was ever once a folk duo, because while Katie Toupin on keys and vocals and Matt Myers on guitar and vocals surely work the front of the stage properly, fellow members Zak Appleby on guitar and vocals and Shane Cody on drums and vocals each take their turns as leads. Their focus is truly a collaborative endeavor and it pays off for Houndmouth effortlessly.
Houndmouth’s sound is familiar of a beloved folk band from Seattle who also utilizes both male and female vocals, but unlike that particular band, Houndmouth has no violinist. Out to the stage they borrowed Will Harvey, violinist of Dry the River, to fill those missing strings. With folk roots to their core, each song felt more genuine than the next, despite all of the humor displayed. Shane Cody was laughing midway through their set over the blood spilling out of his recently cut finger while smashing his drum set. All of the Dry the River’s band members laughed from the side of the crowd as well, with Peter Liddle instructing the boys of Houndmoth to let their beautiful locks flow (instead of hiding them under hats), and with Scott Miller singing along to each of their tour mates folk renditions.