The worst part about taking the train in Chicago is that, despite what certain billboards may lead you to believe, it is not always on time and thus, I did not to get to catch all of Shearwater's set in Millennium Park on August 10th. I wasn't disappointed however because being late gave me the wonderful experience of making my way down Madison, past Starbucks and 7-11 with Jonathan Meiburg's melodic voice guiding my closer to the shore of Lake Michigan.
The best thing about Shearwater is not the understated and commanding drums, the intricate guitar or use of atypical instruments like glockenspiels but the fact that it's all anchored by lead singer Jonathan Meiburg's impossibly smooth voice. Ethereal and beautiful, Shearwater defines pretty indie but not in the way you might expect. While Shearwater is conceptual and doubtlessly gorgeous, their music is so real that it prevents it from being nearly as pretentious as it sounds. Sure, Shearwater is art rock but instead of finding their influence in post punk, Shearwater relies on nature and Jonathan Meiburg's seemingly favorite subject, birds. Shearwater, to me, exemplafies the place in between waking and sleeping where you're not ready to face the world yet but you can't quite go back to bed.
The crowd in Millennium Park was peppered with mid- to late-20's indie hipsters in Okkervil River shirts, showing their support for another band from Austin and their knowledge of Meiburg's musical past (Jonathan was Will Sheff's right hand man in Okkervil River until May of 2008 when he took on Shearwater full time) and the outdoor setting was a perfect showcase for Shearwater's sound.
The band delivered a perfect approximation of their album work, leaning heavily on material from last year's breathtaking Rook, but put forth a surprising amount of energy which I found unexpected if only for the fact that Shearwater's music is so laid back. Drawing in indie kids, older music connoisseurs, and the punkier kids that we were on deck for Shellac, Meiburg and crew impressed and I overheard not one but at least 4 groups of people talking amongst themselves about where these Shearwater people came from and why they hadn't heard of them before. I found that slightly shocking as Shearwater couldn't be more opposite from the evening's headliners, the local and much respected noise rock outfit Shellac. If they could win over this crowd, it's my opinion they could win over anyone but as far as local acts go, I imagine Shearwater would be a perfect tourmate for Andrew Bird, a gentleman still in the forefront of my mind after his impeccable Lollapalooza set.
Shearwater is still more or less a secret when it comes to the collective consciousness of music fans which is a shame, particularly after the release of Rook, an album which came in as my second favorite release of 2008 (The first being Okkervil River's The Stand-Ins, an album which featured Meiburg guesting on the first single, Lost Coastlines, despite the fact that he was no longer in the band). Currently working on their sixth album in eight years, Shearwater is a band to keep an ear out for as the year wears on and their forthcoming album's release draws closers.