I have to admit I was expecting a bigger crowd at The Empty Bottle on Saturday night. Not only because I think Lawrence Arabia should be playing to large audiences, but also because The Empty Bottle is one of the best music venues in the city. The number of people gathered around the bar and stage area seemed more like a Wednesday night than a weekend. Personally, I do prefer this to the times when I go and can’t move from left to right without running into someone. It’s also nice because everyone can enjoy the show without worrying about someone constantly bumping into them. And those that did come out got a fine show delivered by both bands that I saw.
Black Bear Combo opened up the evening, and were not what I was expecting at all. As I came around the corner from the entrance into the stage area, I noticed a band was playing but they were down on the floor. It took a second for that to make sense in my head, but I realized it was because the instruments they were playing didn’t need any PA systems to be heard. The leader of the band went back and forth between alto and tenor saxophone, they had a tuba player, a guy playing marching band style bass drum with a cymbal, and another guy alternating between accordion and an odd tambourine thing.
The strangest thing about the set was how well it worked. I described their music as a living, breathing Woody Allen soundtrack, if that makes sense. It’s got that wild man blues going on, but it’s like something I would expect to hear in a Turkish smokehouse or on the streets of an ancient village. All the players were super talented, and those members of the audience paying attention were rewarded with some really fine music.
After a short intermission Lawrence Arabia took to the stage, and the crowd grew larger in number by about 2oo percent. The thing that struck me immediately is how big they sound with only three members playing. To get that sound required multiple instrument changes, sometimes mid-song. The violin player (I think his name is Daniel) would start a song on guitar, switch to the violin for the chorus, then back to guitar. On the other side of the stage Lawrence Arabia would go back and forth from guitar to keyboard and back again. It was fun to watch and great to hear.
They played mostly songs off the new record, The Sparrow. It’s a great record that I highly recommend-I have it on my iPod, and I grabbed a vinyl copy while I was there. They did play at least one song off Lawrence Arabia’s 2006 debut record, a song called “Bloody Shins.” I didn’t know it since I haven’t gone in reverse to check out their older stuff, but it was a good one.
I posted two songs from the band a couple weeks ago which I hope you’ve checked out by now. One of them, “Traveling Shoes,” is my favorite off the new record. They opened with the other song I posted, “The Listening Times,” but I didn’t have to wait long before they got to what I really wanted to hear.
The set was way too short for me. It felt like they finished up before they really got started, but I guess I can’t complain-they did come all the way here from New Zealand. I got a chance to say hi to James Milne (Lawrence Arabia personified) after the show, and he seems like a very nice guy. I hope the next time they come into town more people show up. NPR just named Lawrence Arabia one of the five bands they think should be more popular, and I whole-heartedly agree.