Horse Feather's played for an audience seated on the floor of Cafe 939, a nice change of pace, making the venue that much more intimate, which complimented the indie-folk music perfectly. Justin Ringle, the lead vocalist and guitarist, even asked mid-concert "Since you are all seated, do you ummm have any questions?" sadly, the only question was "Can we stand up?" which received some boos from the people in the back benefiting from their lucky vantage point. When nobody moved, the cellist, Catherine Odell, responded with "awkwaaaaard." Ringle chimed in with, "It's folk music, it's supposed to be awkward." Somehow, Horse Feathers' skillfully arranged songs are anything but awkward. The crowd enjoyed this light banter which was a nice juxtaposition to the often sad and heavy subject matters of the lyrics, maybe that is the awkwardness Ringle is referencing. However, the skill and feeling that is poured into ever song by the quartet means the focus is on the musical arrangement and less on the lyrics.
Horse Feathers opened with “Working Poor”, a well suited song for the current economy with lyrics “we all forfeit what we make/ too far gone, in our heads/ we all live and work in the red”, to which the crowd responded with loud applause. They continued to play a nice mix of songs from their newest album, Thistled Spring, and from their sophomore release House with No Home including; Belly of June, Cascade, Thistled Spring, and Curs in the Weeds. The gentle vocals took a backseat to the spectacular combination of cello, violin, guitar, and percussions throughout all of their songs.
When the violinist, Nathan Crockett, put the saw in his lap for “Cascades” there was an audible buzz of excitement in the crowd. The saw’s emanating sound was not that cartoonish trembling noise often heard, but rather a haunting metallic cry. The saw’s pitch rose and fell exquisitely in tune, enhancing the dark mood of the song. The saw reappeared in the closing song, Heathen’s kiss, which was accompanied by the talented Sam Cooper who skillfully played the symbol with his violin bow as well as the mandolin. It should be noted that Sam Cooper adeptly switched from banjo, violin, mandolin, harmonium and percussion throughout the set, often managing two instruments simultaneously. While the musical saw was a treat to watch, Sam Cooper’s instrument shuffling was the real spectacle. For their encore they played a cover of Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl", which they did a fantastic job with. The harmonizing of all four vocals was perfect and they did a good job playing the song with their own style. "Orphan Girl" could have been on their album and it would be hard to recognize as a cover song.
The indie music scene has been trending toward the electronic side for some time now, making this acoustic indie band a refreshing pleasure to see live. Without the help of effect pedals, Horse Feathers relies on their musical abilities, the vocals of all four band members, and their creative experimentation with their instruments to create different sounds that many other bands are only capable of producing with the help of computers. The resulting music is pure and simply beautiful.
Watch Heathen's Kiss to see the saw in action.