Like the Wind

The Cave Singers at the Crocodile Cafe, Dec. 14, 2006

It's freezing cold in my apartment, and I'm writing this by candlelight. It would feel more Dickensian if it weren't for the apocalyptic winds whipping the trees into a frenzy and causing the bamboo to shiver at my window. Entire branches have been broken clean off, and the tallest firs have been bent forward and snapped back like pieces of elastic. There's a blackout in my hood, so, huddled under my sub-z sleeping bag after midnight, fingers stiffening as I type, it occurs to me that it's fitting to be writing about a band with the word "cave" in its name.

Opening for S and Panda & Angel at the Croc last Thursday, Seattle's Cave Singers delivered one of the most captivating performances I've seen by a young band in this town. They don't have many shows under their belt, but from set opener "Seeds of Night," it was obvious that will change soon enough. As my co-worker Aja Pecknold noted on our Reverb blog, the Cave Singers were mesmerizing in the same way Band of Horses were back before they had a record deal. You knew something big was about to happen and were torn between whether to keep them like a secret or be the first to tell your friends about what you just saw.

Dressed in a baggy T-shirt and English driver cap, frontman Pete Quirk (formerly of Hint Hint) tilted his chin up to the mike and sang through pinched teeth. His voice, halfway between Arlo Guthrie and Devendra Banhart, is one that you feel coursing through your bloodstream. It was nasally and lonesome, yet schooled and artful, something fans of early R.E.M. should be familiar with. And the Southern vibe didn't stop with Quirk. Guitarist Derek Fudesco (also of Pretty Girls Make Graves) sat hunched over his acoustic guitar, plucking out steady-rolling, Mississippi John Hurt–style melodies while percussionist Marty Lund (Cobra High alum) slapped out some Lightnin' Slim–simple backbeats. While references to such backwoods cats might make the Cave Singers sound like another Old Crow Medicine Show, they are much, much more than a hillbilly homage outfit, taking all those elements from the past and transforming them into bluesy urban weirdness.

Quirk paid tribute to Dylan on the song "Free the Bee," playing on the classic lyric: "If it ain't me babe, it must be you." But the summation of the Cave Singers' abilities was on display with "Called," a sparse alien folk number which was punctuated by Pretty Girls Make Graves' Andrea Zollo on washboard. With chain-gang stomps and Quirk's yelps, the closest comparison would be the more rural side of Isaac Brock's Ugly Casanova project. Their performance was as strong as any I've seen, but the real test of a band's staying power comes after the show. This the Cave Singers passed with flying colors: I left the club humming the songs I'd just heard as the winds tore down Second Avenue and the traffic lights bobbed and swayed.

Opening Act is a weekly look at a band you didn't go to see, but saw anyway—because they played before the band you went to see (and were maybe even better).

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