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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Daredevil Christopher Wright @ Aloft Hotel

July 17, 2012

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Milwaukee's Aloft Hotel sticks out like a sore thumb at the north end of Old World 3rd Street. Next to the old-fashioned architecture of Mader's and the Usinger's store, Aloft looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book—out of step with its surroundings, and, frankly, a little goofy. A similar contradiction was unfolding Tuesday evening inside the hotel's uber-modern lobby, where I sat down among mingling hotel guests to await a free performance by The Daredevil Christopher Wright. A couple was shooting pool; some kids were playing around on the furniture; a woman was buying Smart Water from the snack shop. Besides the menagerie of keyboards, guitar pedals and drums set up in the middle of the room, it was sort of the last place you'd expect to see a band about to perform, let alone the Eau Claire trio whose Laurel Canyon sound doesn't exactly evoke exposed ductwork and magenta armchairs.

"This is a little more swanky than what we're used to," admitted guitarist and vocalist Jason Sunde between songs, getting a muffled laugh from the audience. The performance was part of a nationwide series sponsored by Aloft Hotels and music tastemaker Paste magazine, whose envoys were there to film, photograph and record it. Though the soft-spoken men of Daredevil may have been somewhat out of their element, they played with a calm determination that defied their surroundings—the constant scroll of baseball scores and celebrity gossip on an electronic message board above them; guests wheeling past with suitcases and looks of curiosity—and lulled the audience into a hushed reverence.

Their set drew exclusively from their newest release, The Nature Of Things, a collection of mellow, beautifully orchestrated folk songs that showcase the group's considerable vocal talents and knack for non-traditional songwriting. Though they had to begin the show by asking the audience to move closer (probably more for the benefit of Paste's cameras than anything else), any doubt about their ability to command the room was quickly swept away by the delicately plucked chords of opener "Animal of Choice," which jived perfectly with the relaxed, post-dinner-time atmosphere in the lobby.

The set was seamless, the songs were strong, and the genuine, jaw-dropping talent of all three musicians ensured against any form of a dull moment. It's possible that by choosing to stick with the laidback, experimental material from the still-young Nature Of Things, the group disappointed some fans who were more familiar with their excellent 2009 debut, In Deference To A Broken Back. However, there seemed to be no preference for one or the other at the merch booth, where both seemed to be changing hands fairly quickly after the show. Although they played for almost an hour, it felt far too short, and the audience seemed to confirm that feeling by hanging around afterward, buying vinyl and chatting up the band. I probably won't be staying in an Aloft Hotel anytime soon, but I was definitely sold on The Daredevil Christopher Wright.

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