By Carolyn Mish
On Jan. 16, Slaughter Beach, Dog played the main stage at The Catalyst to a transfixed crowd, a mirrorball illuminating the venue from the inside out. It was, to put it simply, a great show.
I got a ticket a few days in advance, not knowing much about the band. I did my due diligence, though, and after listening to their newest album, Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling, I got progressively more excited to see them live. The day of, it began to rain. Quite hard. As I got on the 19 bus, thoroughly soaked and wielding a rainbow umbrella, I fretted that we might miss the opener. I was pleasantly surprised when we managed to get downtown just in time to hear Sun June’s set begin.
The crowd was relaxed but buzzing with an undercurrent of excitement, and that feeling only ramped up as time went on. The dream-like, twangy vocals from Laura Cowell were complemented by electric guitar and synth, and Sun June held the attention of the crowd throughout their entire set.
It became clear just how subdued the crowd was when the band emerged from the hazy, blue-tinged light and began to play the first track, Bobcat Club, and the Catalyst erupted into cheers. Ewald and the band let the music speak for itself, adding a little commentary after every few songs. They weaved a set from their entire discography, sprinkling tracks from earlier albums like Birdie and At The Moonbase between selections from their newest release.
A particularly fun performance was that of an unreleased song, which Ewald remarked was about Santa Cruz. Bopping around while picking up on references to the cliffs and valleys of our sleepy beach town was a definite highlight of the show. A little Internet sleuthing revealed that they had never performed the track with a full band prior to our show, which makes it feel all the more exclusive and lucky that I got to witness it.
It was clear watching Ewald perform songs about the experience of being on tour, about playing music for a living, that these songs meant something to him. And they meant something to the crowd, who hung onto his every word.
This became obvious when, around the middle of the show, they launched into “Engine.” The crowd shifted slightly in anticipation–they knew that at nearly nine minutes long, we were in for a ride. The song begins with more of the confessional, disarmingly honest lyricism that I had grown to expect from Ewald and culminates in nearly four minutes of captivating instrumentals and a killer guitar solo. It was at this point that I went from casual concertgoer to fan.
I won’t claim to know what I’m talking about, but I think “Engine” is a song about realizing that you are doing what you’re supposed to be doing. For Ewald and his band, that’s music. He and Ian Farmer, the bassist who has been making records with him since they met in college and found success with their band, Modern Baseball, played together, drifting in and out of each other’s orbits as distorted, hazy guitar chords filled the room, and I got the sense that I was watching something special, something human. And when I looked out at the crowd, at the lovers holding one another and the friends swaying with arms outstretched and the die-hard fans echoing every word, I got the feeling that we were all where we were meant to be that night. And that was cool. The applause that followed filled the whole room, and my ears rang with the force of it.
The show, unfortunately, did have to end. One of the final songs they played was “Acolyte,” which is perhaps the most well-known track of their discography. It’s a love song that would border on sickly sweet if it weren’t so refreshingly earnest. The crowd really came alive, echoing Ewald’s voice as the very “secret choir” he sang about. Following “Acolyte,” the band finished up their set, but after raucous applause they returned for a brief encore. Whatever inhibitions the crowd felt prior to the encore fell away, and with “Are You There” and “Your Cat” everyone danced like they wouldn’t soon have to slip back out into the rain and cold, like they didn’t have work and school in the morning, like they meant it.
Slaughter Beach, Dog is wrapping up their tour in the new year, but if you have the opportunity to see them live, I definitely would. Having heard the majority of their catalog for the first (but not last) time at their show, I’d recommend them to anyone, no experience required.