Azure Ray With Whispertown And The Elected At The Lodge Room, Saturday January 20th 2018
Dream pop duo Azure Ray was back on stage at the Lodge Room on Saturday night, and the beautiful venue, located inside the historic Highland Park Masonic Temple, seemed to be packed for the occasion.
The entire show sounded like a family reunion, as the two other bands which were playing the same night had a close connection with Azure Ray. First, the whimsical Whispertown, Morgan Nagler’s indie project, has often opened for Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, the Elected and Maria Taylor herself, then ex-Rilo Kiley Blake Sennett took the stage with his side project, the Elected, for a very anticipated set after a long retirement. The DJ before the performance was obviously aware of this, as we heard a few songs by Jenny Lewis and Conor Oberst, and the whole evening brought in mind a deep sense of community and friendship.
Morgan Nagler told us it was a very special night before charming the audience with her high-pitched vocals and pop ballads, starting with the self-title song of her most recent album ‘I’m A Man’. I had never seen her before, but her delicate finger picking acoustic guitar and her stripped-down style seemed almost too wide-eyed for our trouble times. She was just accompanied by a soothing piano and a very discreet rhythm section, while her friend Greta Morgan joined her on stage for back up vocals, but her set had all the qualities of a dreamy pop folk which lets you appreciate each single syllable and note. All her songs resonated with pure innocence, like her freedom anthem ‘Born to Ride’ or a love song to Catalina Island, called ‘Spanish Tune’. It’s only during ‘Free Faller’ that the sound got a bit fuller and louder, with poly-harmonies and a touch of distortion, followed by the baroque melody of and ‘Keep the Fire Burning’ which seemed to be chasing the peace that she had installed in the lodge.
I couldn’t remember when I had seen the Elected, or even Rilo Kiley for the last time, but it was sure many years ago. Blake Sennett and his alt-Americana (for lack of a better term) is a heartfelt affair with sweet melodies, Sennett’s emotive falsetto and plenty of pedal steel played by multi-instrumentalist Mike Bloom. Even if you have never listened to the Elected (but are fan of Bright Eyes and of course Rilo Kiley), it is highly probable you will feel immediately right at home. The music is quiet but filled with a bright and familiar pop sensibility, Sennett’s vocals often work at a confessional whisper, while the pedal steel shines very bright on certain songs. ‘Here is a new song,… there are new songs,’ said Blake before bringing his friend Molly for the lullaby-like ‘Be My Baby’. And this was a surprise, considering that the last Elected album was released in 2011. There was something deeply sentimental in their music, in the good sense of the term, touching every melancholic chord of your memory, and turning around your feelings like the slow burn of ‘Biggest Star’ before finally exploding into a dopamine rush. People around me, knew all the lyrics of the songs and their performance was the perfect addition to the show. As if Sennett was admitting an obvious influence, he linked the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’ to his own ‘Fireflies In A Steel Mill’… ‘All the old songs!’ had screamed someone in the crowd. But are these new songs announcing a new album soon?
However, the night was the long-awaited return of Orenda Fink and Maraia Taylor as the dreamy tandem. This was Azure Ray’s first show in more than five years, and a highly anticipated event, as the band has barely performed since 2011. I had hardly heard of them, despite several TV placements of some of their songs, and their close relationship with Bright Eyes’ label as their last two albums were released on Saddle Creek, but after listening to them, I can say that their music measures up to their moniker: listening to Azure Ray is like floating in deep blue heaven. The stage had been decorated with plenty of white lilies and candles, making one of the most peaceful and lovely setting I have ever seen for a concert. Maria and Orenda shared the vocals all night long, alternately leading, while a keyboard and a string trio (with cello and violins) were accompanying their serene and melancholic songs. Their voices blended in a haunting whisper, the sort of ultra delicate murmur that could evaporate in front of your eyes if the guitar strumming would get a bit louder, but it never got much louder than during the first two songs. Instead, song after song, the music installed an ambiance as lovely as the flowers around the stage and as deliciously gothic as the oscillating flames of the candles.
‘It’s like it’s 2003’, said Maria, making allusion to the bands which were playing tonight, The beautiful melodies of ‘Don’t Make a Sound’ or ‘Displaced’ captivated the room, and for a series of 14 songs, they gently brushed their catalogue with many songs from their 2001 self title album. The two women consistently charmed the place with delicate and slowly sprawling songs, and they were so hymn-like that a ‘oh shit’ dropped by Maria, while she was tuning her guitar, sounded like pure blasphemy. ‘Don’t Leave My Mind’ brought some subtle electro-beats, while the other songs were only wrapped around emotional violin strings, and the two women’s pure voices. If Maria Taylor’s vocals were the most emotive one, Orenda’s vocals stayed on a more dreamy-ecstasy state till he end, and their very precise harmonies shone to their full bloom during the ascending-above-the-horizon ‘Rise’. ‘If You Fall’ engaged the crowd with some clap-along at Maria’s request, as she moved behind the keyboard for two of the last songs of the encore.
The two women’s voices almost evaporated during their last song ‘November’ and their hushed sound easily demonstrated that loud is not always necessary to install a dramatic effect. Let’s hope that the warm reception by the crowd will convince them they should not wait another 5 years to perform.
Setlist (Azure Ray)
Don’t Make a Sound
On and On Again
Beautiful Things Can Come From the Dark
Safe and Sound
Don’t Leave My Mind
I Will Do These Things
Drinks We Drank Last Night
Hold on Love
If You Fall
Trees Keep Growing
I’m a Man
There Are No Words
I’m an Island
Born to Ride
Keep the Fire Burning
Setlist (The Elected)
Sun Sun Sun
Be My Baby
The Bank and Trust
Sunday Morning/ Fireflies In A Steel Mill