Saturday, February 25, 2012
Café 939 at Berklee, Boston, MA
I’m always scouring concert calendars of the venues I love to see who’s coming up in order to piece together my own constantly evolving concert calendar. When I saw that Company of Thieves was coming to Café 939 at Berklee in Boston, I knew I recognized their name but couldn’t place them. I did a quick search and realized that my favorite local radio station, 98.9 WCLZ in Portland, plays their song “Oscar Wilde,” which I absolutely love. There’s a brilliant lyric in the song that goes, “We are all our own devil/We are our own devil/And we make this world/Our hell.” I decided to go see them to wrap up my February vacation week. I mentioned the show to a couple of Boston friends, and one of them was able to get me on the guest list for the show. [Artists and venues take note—I am happy to write about you and am always thrilled to be on your guest list! Seeing this much live music can really add up—so much that I refuse to do the math.]
I never miss an opening act (a firm rule of mine) and I like to be close to the stage, so I got to Café 939 about 20 minutes before doors were scheduled to open (it’s a tiny, intimate venue). There was already a line of 30 or so people in front of me. Company of Thieves had played there before, and many people I chatted with in line were back to see them. I took that as a good sign.
When the doors opened, I made my way to stage left where there was an open space very near the front and met a great group from New Hampshire, half of whom, I quickly learned, were related to Zac Clark—the opening act. We chatted about Zac a bit (they were all so nice) and they are clearly really proud of him. It’s nice to stand next to nice people at shows.
Zac Clark and the Young Volcanoes took the stage, and I was delighted to see they all had fabulous beards. It’s hard not to judge a book by it’s cover, so I suppose I was expecting indie rock or alt country, but Zac Clark and the Young Volcanoes’ music is pop—totally upbeat and melodic. Zac has a beautiful, clear voice with a great tone. He sings a lot of high notes and makes it sound effortless. I was instantly wowed and surprised at how polished their sound is. It’s hard not to compare their sound to Gavin DeGraw because Zac plays piano (his band mates play drums and guitar). If you like Gavin DeGraw, James Morrison, Josh Kelley, or Jason Mraz, I bet you’ll dig Zac Clark and the Young Volcanoes.
The guys played some love songs, and I especially liked “Sing You To Sleep,” which goes, “If you say that you think you can’t believe me/I’ll wait right here while you’re making up your mind/I don’t want to take you home/But I keep quiet because I think you know/That I just want to sing you to sleep.” “Wait” is an upbeat, hopeful song that includes the lines, “Swear I’ll keep your heart/Safe here from the start/Something I never thought was necessary/But you live and learn” and “I’ll wait for you.” “Traffic” is a lovely, slow ballad—“And the traffic’s not so bad/Like we paid for this in advance/With all the roadblocks in our past/If you think you’re letting go/Know all you have to do is ask/And wait for the angel on the dashboard/To guide me home to you at last.” “Happy, With a Secret” is about a girl that’s up to no good—“It’s your attention to small details that makes you such a good liar/But it’s your penchant for leaving trails that sets your alibis on fire” and “You shake like someone’s who’s got something to hide/Is it your lips on his lips or is it your clothes by his bedside?” Sometimes love doesn’t go our way, eh? They covered “Wherever You Are” by Madi Diaz in their set and finished with a beautiful cover of “I Shall Be Released.”
I went over to see Zac in between sets because I definitely didn’t want to miss the chance to buy their album. He and I chatted and he is so genuinely nice and gave me a copy of his album to listen to on the way home to Maine. I think they are definitely in the early stages of branding themselves, though, because getting your hands on their music is not that easy. Zac—let me know if there’s a bandcamp site or some other way people can get your music if they can’t make it to a show. I’d be happy to add that information here for folks. I listened to their album the whole way home to Maine—I think at least four or five times the whole way through. It’s totally listenable and upbeat without being repetitive.
I had to leave my conversation with Zac to make it back up to my spot with his family (which they graciously saved for me) because Company of Thieves had taken the stage. I am confident that I initially watched with raised eyebrows and said “wow” out loud a couple of times because I was blown away. Talk about stage presence and power.
Genevieve’s voice is Bjork-like, and she reminds me a bit of an upbeat Samantha Farrell (she kind of looks like Sam, too). Her voice is raspy, breathy, and powerful. So impressive. She has the musical symbol forte tattooed on her arm—it’s the symbol for “loud”—I chuckled when I noticed it because it’s so appropriate. She’s a force of nature. The band sounded great—the guys played guitar, drums, bass, and keys. I was six inches from Eitan on the keys, so close I could have played them (if I knew how).
The band really shines on “Gorgeous/Grotesque”—Genevieve introduced it saying it was about our relationship with the environment. She said, “Syrup” was a true story. I particularly appreciated the line “I know I made a mistake because I missed you/It’s a damn shame we couldn’t be.” The crowd was thrilled when she asked if they’d sing “Tallulah” with the band. Genevieve said it was about Tallulah, Louisiana and towns being left behind. I really liked “After Thought,” too—“I am not my problems/I am not my money’s worth/Where I went to school/Order of my birth/And I am not the answer/I am not the aftermath/Or picture of the past.”
Company of Thieves came back and played a three-song encore. The first was Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.” Genevieve said it summed up what the band had been going through for a long time. Someone at the show recorded it and I hope you’ll watch. You can hear the guys from Zac Clark and the Young Volcanoes singing in the background. It was so beautiful and I believed every word she sang. They played “Oscar Wilde”—definitely their biggest hit from their 2009 debut album, Ordinary Riches. “Oscar Wilde” even got Company of Thieves noticed by Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates. They filmed an episode of his popular internet show “Live From Daryl’s House” in 2009. Marc told us how genuinely appreciative they were of the audience that night. He said they’d been playing in Boston since 2009 and it had never been like that. Company of Thieves ended the night with “Won’t Go Quietly,” which has driving percussion and great harmonies. Genevieve even banged on the cymbals a bit. It was a rowdy way to end the night. I can’t wait to see this group again. Catch them while you can still see them in smaller venues—they are going big places soon.
I’ve listened to Company of Thieves’ 2011 album, Running From a Gamble, a bunch since that night. I love that Genevieve and Marc recorded videos of themselves playing almost all of the songs in unique locations before the album was released and posted them to their YouTube channel for fans to enjoy. I especially like “Queen of Hearts”—“I’m gonna paint myself aside/Like something second in line,” “Never Come Back,” which really showcases Genevieve’s powerful voice, and “Death of Communication,” which is such a strong song with the fabulous lyrics, “Honestly my honesty/Was always what I gave for taking your bread/I never thought you would have hung it high above/As you did over my head/Ever since you came into my life/I always felt a little misled/I tried to read the signs/Tried to stay in the lines/But the shapes were always changing.”
Company of Thieves has a great story. Vocalist Genevieve Schatz met guitarist Marc Walloch in Chicago on a train through a mutual friend. She had run away from a “dysfunctional home” and was living on her own and “home-schooling herself through her senior year of high school.” They connected over music instantly and starting getting together regularly to write songs and play together. In her own words on their website, “we saved each other.” About their past, Genevieve wrote, “we weren’t those kids who were in cliques at school. We were everyone’s friends. We were curious and lonely and desperately trying to see the world beyond the manicured lawns and paved parking lots of Wal-Marts in the suburbs of Chicago. We just want to share our music with you, with love!” Company of Thieves has nothing but love and appreciation for their fans because they respect the connection that people have to the group and their music. About themselves, they say “we have a fire in our hearts that is almost impossible to match—that moves as quickly as the train we met on. The truth is…we never got off that train. It’s ever in motion. This band is bigger than us.” I think fans of Company of Thieves feel like they are part of something special. It’s one of the stories of nice, hard working, creative, dedicated people actually finishing first for a change. How refreshing.