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Wednesday January 21st, 2015 at The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA
Wild Child, You Won't, & Pearl and the Beard
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Three weeks after adding this show to my calendar, I couldn't remember why. I must have thought the name "Wild Child" sounded familiar, but when reviewing my concern calendar twenty days later, without any context, I was lost. Still, I made plans to attend, trusting my earlier intuition. When the show sold out a full week before the concert, suddenly I had to do some research. Turns out I had played a Wild Child Christmas recording on the podcast only a month earlier. And worse, I had shot the band at a show in Grand Rapids about a year ago. And two years ago I lauded the debut album of support act, Boston's You Won't, as one of my top albums of the year, offering similar accolades to one of the album's songs. I'm certain I didn't know all that when I decided to go, but suddenly, now that finding a ticket was going to be harder, I really wanted to go. After some amount of undignified begging, it would ultimately be the opening act's PR company who would grant me entrance. As such, I stood outside the Cambridge venue ten minutes before the doors were scheduled to open to ensure that I didn't miss a note of the opener's set. A guest list spot is a sacred promise.

Propelled by a rush of similarly minded fans, I was quickly moved into the club, channeled to an entirely optional (but evidently customary) coat check, and dumped into the single large room that is The Sinclair. The size of the room, the high stage, and the balconies that lined the room immediately reminded me of The Abbey Pub in Chicago. The Sinclair opened in the years after I moved from Boston, and this was my first time in the club. At first I staked my customary claim at the edge of the stage, but after considering the stage height and the sold out crowd that was likely to keep me pressed forward, I retreated to the balconies. This was a wise move, for one of the balconies held five or six small tables with good views and chairs suitable for the aged. I set down my heavy camera bag, pulled out my longest lens, and tested its range. These wouldn't be great shots, but they would certainly be better than the shots of nostrils that I'd capture from the front row. Satisfied, I waited.

The evening began with Pearl and the Beard, a campy trio from New York that defies strict taxonomy. Folk, if you must, but the band's rolling percussion and dynamic indie rock climaxes told a much broader tale. In fact, in the loudest, most pleasant moments, the three-piece were deconstructionists – stripping away unnecessary layers to expose raw nerves in a way that recalled PJ Harvey. These moments, defined by percussionist Jocelyn Mackenzie's frenetic energy, contrasted with the quiet moments designed to highlight cellist Emily Hope Price's soulful vocals. Really though, there was a bit of everything as the band is an egalitarian affair with Mackenzie, Price, and guitarist Jeremy Styles all contributing lead vocals on occasion, harmonies throughout, and staged banter in turn. The audience (easily several hundred at the start of the band's set and steadily growing throughout) appreciated the band, offering robust shouts of "Woo" each time the band would pander with mentions of "Massachusetts" or "Cambridge." Of course an opening band can't really be penalized for reaching for the long-hanging fruit, and ultimately the band remained amiable, fun, and just a bit ridiculous throughout its short set.

There was a short break between bands as a trained crew moved gear about the large stage. Soon, drenched in blue light, the two members of Boston's You Won't appeared from a behind a curtain at the back of the stage. Although I had reacquainted myself with the band's last album after realizing my earlier memory gaffe, most of the band's 45-minute set was unfamiliar to me. Although a new album is likely on the way, even refamiliarised favourites were delivered differently live. Songs were certainly looser and noisier than their studio counterparts – the polish worn away. This isn't to say the richness of the tracks didn't shine through as Raky Sastri not only provided drums and keyboards, but also harmonica and curiosities like musical saw and some electronic droning instrument whose sound I can only describe as an electronic bagpipe. Sastri captured many of these digitally, playing them back as loops to extend his reach. While frontman Josh Arnoudse was generally saddled with guitar and vocal duties, he did escape for his own play time, twirling a long plastic tube above his head to capture a whirring effect that he used as accompaniment for his vocals. Later in the set he would return to the tube, singing a warbling, tremolo-rich version of "Can't Help Falling In Love" directly into the apparatus. As a front man, Arnoudse was loveably awkward, and a bit self-effacing – a sort of Michael Cera, but without the stammer. His dedication to all the "douchebags" in the audience (preceding a delightful, Americana-leaning number that I didn't recognize) was wonderful.

The Sinclair is the sort of venue where bands bow at the front of the stage after their set, and are then ushered off the stage by men with flashlights.

Headliners Wild Child took the stage at precisely 10:30. Although the band's history and future direction reside solely with Kelsey Wilson (vocals, violin) and Alexander Beggins (vocals, baritone ukulele), the duo was joined by now-regular cohorts Drew Brunetti (drums), Sadie Wolfe (cello), Evan Magers (keyboards), Chris D'Annunzio (bass), and guest Matt Bradshaw (trumpet, harmonica). A seven-piece band. Despite the band's numbers, its set was playful, breezy, and light, owing much of the levity to Beggin's ukulele. If there are such things as "hippiesters," this Austin ensemble fit the bill. The bare feet, shawl, and flowing skirt of Wilson, the cardigan and cap worn by Beggins, and D'Annunzio's bandana neckerchief all complete the band's total vision. While direct comparisons are hard to come by, one-time-Austinites Poi Dog Pondering might prove a useful jumping off point.

Throughout the evening Beggins and Wilson shared both the spotlight and lead vocal duties, however it was Wilson's voice, full of colour and runs, that captured the audience. And boy, did the band have the audience's attention. Although the band explicitly requested sing-a-longs several times ("Cocaine Hurricane" was an enormous success), there was never a need, as the audience was already adding its boisterous vocals to every song. The only exceptions came in the four or five new songs the band performed from their completed, yet unreleased, upcoming third album. Unable to sing along, the audience doubled down on the clapping and dancing. Between every song, the audience obsequiously hooted approval, obviously surprising and humbling Wilson.

Closely following the prepared eighteen-song set list, the band played material from all three albums, augmented by a sloppy cover of Michael McDonald's " I Keep Forgettin'" that was lost on the audience. Beggins seemed similarly uninterested in the cover, instead performing an awkward dance designed to distract Wilson. For those of us of a certain age, the song was fun; for the rest of the college-aged crowd, it was a unsatisfying detour. Thankfully, the band ended with "The Tale of You and Me" replete with a long, repeated, sing-a-long refrain. Soon afterwards Wilson and Beggins returned for a quiet number as a duo, before ending the evening outright with a full-band rendition of "The Runaround." I abandoned my table during this final number, slipping through the thinning audience (it was late on a school night) and captured a couple of images from the floor. Upon review, these were the best photos of the night. It's an age-old tale – I had chosen comfort and my art suffered.

After freeing my coat from its captor, I walked back to my rental car parked inconveniently, but freely, a half-mile away. Then it was a half-hour drive back to my hotel in the suburbs, leaving me plenty of time to think about the bands, their fans – or maybe more honestly, their Boston fans – and the venue where I spent my evening. This wasn't my scene, and I'm sure I knew that before attending, but it was a good show, highlighted, quite honestly, by how excited the rest of the audience was to be there. Sometimes it's enough just to be in a place where happy people dance to pop music provided by happy bands. Maybe that's why I put the show on my calendar.

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