Shearwater and the Button Factory, 28th of November 2012

The Button Factory crowd is still rather sparse by the time Great Lake Swimmers hit the stage on Wednesday night. This doesn’t seem to bother these folky Canadians as they enthusiastically play through an enjoyable country-tinged set. Lead singer Tony Dekker and violinist Miranda Mulholland exchange nice vocal harmonies but their songs mostly from their fine ‘New Wild Everywhere’ album, probably don’t do enough to win over those not already fans of the band.

Shortly after they exit the stage Jonathan Meiburg and his Shearwater band enters the stage. The venue is still not quite full as they begin Landscape at Speed from 2010’s ‘Golden Archipelago’; Meiburg’s haunting vocals complemented by the tinny drums. The stage is undecorated save for lights, but the band themselves seem to put in enough energy to keep the audiences’ attention.

Most of the set, which lasts just over an hour, consists of material from their fantastic 2012 album ‘Animal Joy’. Meiburg is the constant point of reference on the stage; his voice straddling several octaves and switching between delicate and powerful effortlessly, and in timing perfectly conducive to the song at hand. No matter whether he is behind the guitar of the keyboard, Meiburg’s instrument leads the musical way for the band. He is the pied piper with everyone else playing second fiddle, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor.

And he leads the way perfectly. The band never misses a beat. They seem to be putting so much exertion into the show, but seem to get little back from the crowd except some slight head bobbing and a few cheers at the end of songs. You can’t help but think that the band deserve more (and a bigger audience than a half full Button Factory), especially for a brilliantly sinister version of Open Your Houses or the garage-rock of Immaculate.

The band continues to hop through genres – from the country White Waves to the spooky epic Insolence to the almost-ballad of I was a Cloud – but every different song seems to fit perfectly. It’s all new, yet it’s all Shearwater.

Meiburg doesn’t let the cold he complained of early in the show affect the show – it certainly doesn’t affect his fantastic voice – nor his mood. The Baltimorian tells his own stories of The Button Factory’s environs: from signing up for his first email account to getting his hair cut. “As I sat there with this burly man massaging my head, I suddenly felt very alone in the world,” he says to the laughter of the crowd and his bandmates.

It seems all too soon that Shearwater are playing their last song of the evening. The band stand to exit the stage but, after a quick shake of the head from Meiburg, they retake their places and crack into a very rocking version of Johnny Viola. This should have sparked jumping and cheering from the crowd, but when there’s a few feet of separation from one person to the next, it doesn’t really work. It’s a pity because that would have been the closing Shearwater deserve.