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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sea Wolf @ Shank Hall

April 29, 2013

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Live performances can so often be derailed by forces outside of the band’s control—a cruddy sound system, a chatty or belligerent crowd, some equipment malfunction. While those situations are frustrating, there’s not much the musicians can do other than continue through the calamitous affair and hope to connect with as many fans as possible. What’s much worse and far more disappointing is when a band just appears off their game, making frivolous mistakes that could be easily avoided with a little focus. Unfortunately last night at Shank Hall, the latter was true, as Sea Wolf’s frontman Alex Brown Church embarked on a listless solo acoustic set that often found him forgetting the lines to his songs, strumming the wrong chords and even once placing his capo a couple frets too low.

Church founded Sea Wolf in 2007 after disbanding his old outfit, the indie-rock band Irving, and went on to release three full-length records under Dangerbird Records. His latest, 2012’s Old World Romance, diverted slightly from his previous folk leanings and incorporated a broader sonic landscape. Church fulfilled his label deal with that record, and following a stint touring behind the album with his band, he began work on a Kickstarter project to fund a new stripped-down record that harkened back to the early, more folk-enriched days of Sea Wolf.

The charming frontman fittingly began his intimate set Tuesday night with a cut from this new offering, a softly sung, precious tune about falling out of love. Church would play an assortment of songs from each of his records, though, the selections from the decadent-sounding Old World Romance often appeared empty, like they were lacking some vital accompaniment and Church didn’t possess the chops to carry them alone. He even flat-out refused a request to play a song from Sea Wolf’s debut because he didn’t think it would sound right. “I promise to play some other songs you like, though,” he offered.

Halfway through the set, Church looked lost, his head seemingly a world away. At first he blamed the absent-mindedness on his own whimsical material—“I think that song took me away, too,” he explained after mumbling through the second verse of “Blue Stockings.” That line would have proved much more believable if his frequent slip-ups didn’t continue. Later Church restarted a verse of “Leaves In The River” after completely blanking on the words. This time he criticized the passing cars and pedestrians in the bar’s windows for averting his attention. It became increasingly clear that Church just wasn’t present last night, which is a shame because his captivating, shakily crooned material can be beautiful and stirring. He simply needs to show up.