DM Stith, The Acorn (live in Paris)
Monday, May 18, 2009
DM Stith and The Acorn (live in La Maroquinerie, Paris)
Review Snapshot: A cracking double bill of cinematic, romantic North American folk-rock to warm this cold Paris cellar. DM Stith is the quiet small-town Everyman with an otherworldly voice; The Acorn are your ideal college roommates. In their own ways, the two acts win over the crowd with their invention, sincerity and vision – though most punters will go home talking about Stith.
The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10
The average rock fan, on heading out on a Friday night, probably worries about catching things other than pneumonia or the common cold. But here we are in La Maroquinerie, a popular Paris venue, on a May evening and it actually feels chilly down here when normally these cellar walls are running with punter perspiration.
You see, the place isn’t even half full – and whenever the door opens, a draught sweeps round the room. It’s odd that more people haven’t come out to see such an attractive double bill of two buzz names on the transatlantic indie music wires.
But those here tonight are the curious and genuinely interested: fortunately for both acts, most people stand right up at the stage instead of leaving a crescent of indifferent floorspace to greet the performers. There are no ‘SHH!’-ers here nor need of them. And tonight’s committed crowd is rewarded by two engaging and enjoyable shows. These two acts go well together.
Both DM Stith and The Acorn (support and headline acts respectively) play a blend of indie- and folk-rock flavoured by more exotic influences, though the American evokes the bookish teenager and the Canadian band are more like your joint-smoking college roommates. (Keyboardist Mike Dubue actually enquires mid-set whether it’s easy to procure marijuana in Paris. For the record, the wisdom of tonight’s crowd holds that it isn’t.)
Where Stith’s recordings are swathed in swirling wisps of ether, on stage with his band those songs are concrete and robust – the man himself (above right) goes about his business in a workmanlike way, chiselling out chords like an apprentice carpenter and grinning boyishly between songs. (He looks like a teenage Donald Sutherland.) To strum the rhythm of ‘Pigs’ he mutes his guitar by folding a piece of cloth through the strings – but then still takes the trouble of making the chord shapes. And as he launches into the next song he forgets to take the cloth out of the strings. His air of affability makes him quite likeable. (After the show he chats amiably with fans at the merchandise table.)
But that voice, piercing and melancholic like a train whistle across a prairie, still conjures up romance and escape and a sort of bruised yearning. This is captured in his music by exotic scales and chord progressions such as in songs like ‘Fire Of Birds’ and ‘Pity Dance’. Adding to the pleasing sense of oddness, the violinist and cellist produce a Theremin-type sound by swinging red plastic outflow pipes over their heads.
Dare we say that Stith steals the show? Well, we can’t remember ever seeing a support act coming back out for an encore, as Stith does tonight after heartfelt calls from the crowd.
This isn’t to suggest that The Acorn are any less enjoyable; they rock. Their songs fall into two camps: lumberjack-shirt folk-rock (‘Crooked Legs’, ‘Fallen Leaves’) and Vampire Weekend-style college world-pop (‘Low Gravity’, ‘Flood Pt 1’). They do both well. The apparent extravagance of having two drummers is justified by the band’s dependence on strong, inventive rhythms: while DM Stith requires attentive listening, The Acorn are for dancing and most of the crowd bop along to their set. That said, in their own way The Acorn are just as poetic and escapist as Stith – those world rhythms, of course, but also singer Rolf Klausener’s rich, warm voice and songs about his mother's youth in Honduras.
The only downer of the night is that this band’s best song, the joyous tribal hymn ‘Flood Pt 1’, is drowned in a murky sound mix that has too much bass: the track’s glorious guitar line is almost completely lost. Many people here tonight have come to see The Acorn on the basis of loving that song, so it’s a pity to hear it slightly botched.
There’s something in the North American experience that constantly inspires books and music and art which are cinematic and sincere and aspirational compared to the self-conscious cynicism and irony of many European artists. Whether it comes from the vast widescreen landscape or immigrant heritage or maybe some last trace of the frontier spirit, both The Acorn and DM Stith exemplify this. They deserve to be playing packed furnaces of venues from now on, and we suspect that Stith’s support-slot days will soon be behind him.