Things have changed in the world of Death Vessel. For one, lead singer and, in essence, the band Joel Thibodeau has come out with a new album on Sub Pop entitled Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us. Secondly, he's greatly changed his live show. Two years ago, while touring for 2005's Stay Close, Thibodeau performed solo with his acoustic guitar. On this tour, he's accompanied by Micah Blue Smaldone on stand up bass as well as a drummer and banjo player. Overall, it's a more energetic and plugged in affair and no doubt it's also more accessible to many. Though some of the fragility is still there, it's overall much less delicate and personal sounding due to it's increased size and fullness of sound.
For those unfamiliar with Death Vessel or the work of Joel Thibodeau (who was previously in String Builder), the most distinctive thing to mention about the folk pop sound is the vocals. Thibodeau doesn't sing in a falsetto but in a really sharp tenor that grabs you nonetheless. It's a bit feminine in the sense that if you had to guess if a woman or a man was singing while listening to the albums, it would be a difficult choice. For me, this is what makes the music really engaging.
Though Thibodeau is based in Brooklyn, he was born in Berlin and spent a great deal of time around various cities in the Northeast. He and Micah Blue Smaldone, who played stand up bass and also opened Saturday night, also shared a hometown in Maine. The pair seemed to work well together during his set as well and there are similarities in terms of the intricacy of the musicianship and the personal lyrics. Although, I wish that Smaldone's back up vocals had been used more prominently.
Micah Blue Smaldone, formerly of The Pinkerton Thugs is in quite a different place musically than he was back in the punk years. It's a transformation, in fact, that recalls John K. Sampson's move from Propagandhi to the Weakerthans, especially the early period of the band. Basically, it's a move from punk to a more intimate folk. Micah Blue Smaldone may not have as much of a distinctive voice as Thibodeau but it is just as lovely. Smaldone's vocals felt reminiscent of Art Garfunkel, only about an octave lower. Still, the same softness and vibrato especially with held notes created a real nostalgia in me while listening. And similar to the Weakerthans writing about their hometown of Winnipeg, Smaldone wrote and sang a song about his hometown of Maine that was personal and even, as he admitted, difficult to get through. But, of course, that's sometimes what makes the very best songs.