Wild Country

LIVE: Wake Owl @ Jammin' Java - 2/25/13

You can forgive the crowd at Jammin’ Java for being fooled. The signs were all there; it was a seated show, with folks at the tables jawing amicably before the show about how they got to know Wake Owl, the Vancouver-based band everyone was there to see. And then there were the openers; Andy Shauf (who doubles as Wake Owl’s drummer) played a quiet solo set, and engaged in even quieter dialog with the crowd. He was followed by Dan Lee, whose simple acoustic songs had an eyes-closed sensitivity that at times veered a little too much towards a mid-90s Toad the Wet Sprocket sound. All of these clues – not to mention the fact that Wake Owl’s stellar debut EP, Wild Country, is mostly acoustic – made those in attendance think they were seeing a night of sedate but beautiful music.

Not so much. Right before their second song, the band noted they wanted a standing show, but admitted it was a miscommunication on their end. Odd, we thought – after the first two acts everyone was very happy to be sitting, slurping chili and sipping drinks. After ten songs, singer Colyn Cameron told us what we’d already figured out: “We’re not really an acoustic band,” he shrugged. Wake Owl’s set featured many moments of quiet beauty, but much more time was spent on upbeat – even borderline postpunk - songs, many laced with Aiden Brant-Briscall’s breathtaking violin and guitar skills.

As if to illustrate how much their sound has shifted, they played just two of the five songs on Wild Country, and they were early in the set. The title track was given considerable jump as Josh Daignault added a chugging bassline. “Gold,” the band’s debut single, was given an atmospheric punch by Brant-Briscall’s violin, and as the song built to it’s chorus all the toes in the house were tapping, and all the heads were bobbing. The violin was also the main focus of “Madness,” a new tune with a Middle Eastern flair that had a Camper Van Beethoven feel.

Most of the set consisted of new material that the band says it will be recording later this month. Based on what we heard, it’s easy to be optimistic that while the album will have a different sound, it will be no less impressive. Brant-Briscall took vocal duties on two songs; his Matt Berninger-sounding baritone is a great compliment to Cameron’s falsetto. Both sing extremely well, and their voices meld perfectly.

That is when their voices weren’t overpowered by the music. New songs like “Days in the Sea” and “Strange Sun” were loud, fun, experiments in noise that sounded little to nothing like the band on Wild Country. Other songs, such as “Vacation,” sounded more like Vampire Weekend. All of it, however, was great.

After a scant twelve songs the band left the stage and didn’t return – not surprising given how little material they have. But if the point is to leave the crowd wanting more, Wake Owl did what they came to do and a little more.

TO DO LIST: Wake Owl @ Jammin' Java TONIGHT!!!

Considering how formidable Colyn Cameron’s songwriting skills are, there’s no question fans of his band, Wake Owl, hope he stays in the music business. But goodness knows the man certainly has a resume to fall back on – the Southern California native studied organic agriculture at Emerson College in Sussex, England, worked on a number of farms in Germany, Chile and Canada, and then traveled the world.

But writing haunting, sweeping acoustic music is where Cameron’s talent clearly lies. The five songs on his magnificent debut EP, Wild Country, are quiet ruminations laced with violins, tremolo guitar, and several layers of Cameron’s soothing tenor. It’s a voice that’s hard to pin a description on – writers have described it as “lonely,” “textured,” “attention grabbing,” “reflective, reedy,” and, “unflashy.” No matter how you describe it, it’s perfect for the world-weary songs he sings. With a number of U.S. dates this Spring and a full length album in the works, Wake Owl is on the cusp of a huge breakout – the chance to see them in an intimate venue like Jammin’ Java is a blessing.

Wake Owl will be joined by Brockway (the stage name of New England-based singer/songwriter Dan Lee) and Andy Shauf.