The Cave Singers packed the house last night at the Mercury Lounge, but they didn’t necessarily rock the house. Which is fine, because they’re not really a rock band. As Matador, their label, makes it clear in the band’s press release, The Cave Singers are a "folk trio." When I first read that, it made me realize how nebulous and misleading the genre-labeling that people like me promulgate can be. Because when I got hooked on their debut, Invitation Songs, folk is not what came to mind.
What actually came to mind was how much I liked the raspy vocals of the Seattle band’s singer, Pete Quirk, which reminded me of Stevie Nicks. In fact, I actually thought Quirk was a woman the first time listened to “Helen” off the Matador Spring Sampler CD that introduced me to the band. Since then I’ve seen that one other writer likens Quirk to Fleetwood Mac’s other vocalist, Lindsay Buckingham (at least he got the sex correct). Just goes to show, you’ve got to listen to this stuff yourself.
Or go see it for yourself, which a couple of hundred of us did last night. What we saw was a dark room (appropriately cave-like) with three bearded men on stage exchanging acoustic instruments. The trio took us through a dozen or so songs, with Quirk doing all of the singing (why then, the pluralized moniker? Who cares?) and occasionally playing the melodica, that small mouth-powered keyboard-thingy that looks like a Fisher Price toy. Quirk also busted out the harmonica and tambourine, which brought to mind Dylan, another nasally folkie that Quirk’s voice can sound like.
The set seemed short, less than an hour, and featured a lot of new material. The fresh tunes were a treat, but it was the more familiar stuff, like the foot-stomping “Dancing On Our Graves” that went over best. While the show was well received by the room full of fans, overall I felt underwhelmed. Even though I expected it to be as mellow as it was, a swaying-more-than-dancing experience, something about The Cave Singers’ hypnotic appeal didn’t translate to the live show. Still, it was worth seeing them if for no other reason than I now agree that calling them a folk band is accurate, although limiting.
Towards the end of the night I felt a tinge of pride when I asked the friend I had brought to the show to close his eyes during “New Monuments” and imagine Stevie Nicks. He did so, and smiled. “I hear it,” he said. Now go hear it for yourself.