As compared to their first two albums, the Cave Singers’ campfire folk rock is a little looser and rawer on their latest, No Witch, alternating between heterodox folk and traditional rock grit, spliced with Americana, blues and psych elements, blending into some gruff melodic mélange. While nervous ticket-hunters skulked around outside, the three cave singers themselves, vocalist Pete Quirk, drummer Marty Lund and guitarist Derek Fudesco, took to the Doug Fir stage and brought this grainy ethos to bear. As soon as the band got settled, the broadly beaming Quirk, diminutive and in a trucker hat, led the trio into “Summer Light,” a gentle warm-up strum of a tune off 2009’s Welcome Joy. But there was a new urgency and roughness to it–the spell of No Witch. Up next, “Clever Creatures” was a more natural fit:slick like whiskey but still frayed, quicker than the album version, Quirk blinking through his duties, pitching his hat back and scratching his head as he brought his scratchy drawl to its higher registers.
Switching between handclaps and distortion, Southern tinges, bongo, tambourine and harmonica, Lund dutifully setting the tempo and Quirk sometimes joining Fudesco on guitar, the band had no trouble navigating the highs and lows of their newest material. What’s more, they gave the so-gentle-they’re-almost-stultifying songs of their early career the oomph they may have formerly been missing without sacrificing any of the sway and understated earnestness that makes them work. Balanced against the highest, loudest points of No Witch, such asthe breakneck “Black Leaf” and insistent, wild-eyed “No Prosecution If We Bail,” the accord between soft and loud songs, all of them awash in the gritty energy of the band, was sufficient enough to sweep the audience along. Breaking out into spontaneous bouts of howls and whistles, clapping along in time to “Haller Lake” and going wild when they closed their encore with anachronistic shuffler “Dancing on our Graves” (from 2007’s Invitation Songs), it wasn’t just the band that were enjoying themselves. This in spite of the palpable camaraderie shared between the three of them, which seemed to only grow as the set progressed and the positive reception from the audience grew in scope. “Even after a six-week tour, I think, ‘I miss those guys,'” Quirk remarked towards the end of the show, “‘Let’s go hang out in a hotel.'”
Fourteen songs is a broad canvas on which to paint a mood, but the Cave Singers had it nailed in six and kept earning it until the very end. Either surprised by the turnout and enthusiasm or distracted by the thought of being only 20 hours away from being back home in Seattle, Quirk’s vocal presence, strong and forceful at first, faded slightly by set’s end, most especially as he focused more on supporting Lund and Fudesco on the guitar. Then again, achieving a full-figured sound as a trio is likely difficult stuff requiring full efforts from all, and Quirk’s energy may have simply been sapped by his attempts to be as engaged in delivering his inscrutable lyrics as he had been gesticulating like Michael Stipe. Regardless of whether they were finger-picking lightly or ripping through a tune sideways, the Cave Singers seemed content with the harshness they stumbled into on No Witch. Which is a good thing; admittedly, the campfire needed a few cracked dry logs added to it, and the singing needed to be a little louder, more electrified: the better to call sleepers from their caves, valley towns and railroad cars.
(Photos: Matt Koroulis)