I confess to having a nasty affection for tobacco cigarettes, but I don't even think marathon training would've helped me last night when the music of Hooves and Beak suddenly, unexpectedly sucked the oxygen out of the Tractor Tavern. Harper Whitney Flinn has gathered guitar/cello, bass, and drum players since her arrival from Kansas for the 2010 EMP Sound Off!, but what knocked my air out was the difference in strength in her voice now as opposed to then. Without her comedic between song banter ('I'm gonna play a slow song now, try not to get a boner') making me laugh, I might have suffocated there for shortness of breath. I was aghast at her range and confidence. Already possessed of lyrical prowess, and now armed with an indelicate arsenal of harp arpeggios, Whitney Flinn and crew are all ready to start drawing reductive (albeit well-deserved) comparisons to Joanna Newsom (who Whitney cites as her own inspirator), luckily for them, however, people wont have to pretend to like Hooves and Beak. I was more than happy to walk over to the merch table and jump on the email list when she mentioned a new album in the works.

With the Sunday night crowd now swollen to a whopping 30 or 40 people (bands and bartenders included), Song Sparrow Research took to the stage and upped the strings ante by seeing the cello, and raising one stand-up bass to accompany bandleader Hamilton Boyce on electric guitar and vocals. I've waxed before about the way the moody arrangements of these jazz and orchestral trained musicians brand of hushed rock manages to stay plucky enough to take flight on harmonies, and they do not disappoint live. While Boyce's voice rarely rises above an indoor speaking tone, the music is deeply and delicately atmospheric. Evan Woodle flailed and head bobbed at twice the typical ¾ beat like you'd expect a jazz drummer to, keyboard player Ryan Batie could hardly be contained in his playpen of glockenspiel and laptop, David Balatero sat plucking and pulling every available sound from cello (and later the biggest goddamn electric bass I've ever seen), and Kendall Becker kept her eyes shut and felt out the beat on stand up bass with an intensity rarely heard this side of music. Song Sparrow Research moved efficiently through some cuts from their recently released self-titled and some new material under the crowds watchful eye. Their passion for their individual instruments made them a pleasure to watch as well as hear. In a time where big noise has become synonymous with interesting, what little noise they made was attention getting and well orchestrated without being stale.

More + pics after the jump!

Bill toppers Zambri rode all the way from New York City (Brooklyn, wassup) on a dark horse for their first performance in Seattle. They traded in strings for a set of synths, a Roland 404 sampler, and an odd setup of three microphones taped together and strung through a reverb and loop pedal board. With a total of five microphones for two lead singers they switched synchronously between keys and sampler all the while belting out mesmerizing pop harmonies. Zambri's tangle of hair, electro pop, and microphone cords is an entertaining spectacle of it's own, but backed by the pop and hiss of live drums and even more keyboards the big voices and huge synth pop sound commanded the smallest crowd I've ever seen at the Tractor to huddle together front and center, and break out of starched skinnies and into their dancing pants. Clearly raised on Siouxsie Sioux, and with distinct voices all their own, the brooding, intense sound of Zambri's dual lead singers sounded like a wave of early 80s synth punk. They played through their most recent album Baasa, and their infectious passion for their own sound payed in dividends as the crowd was clearly into it.

Whitney Flinn, Harper (Hooves and Beak)
  • Sean Jewell
  • Whitney Flinn, Harper (Hooves and Beak)

Song Sparrow Research
  • Sean Jewell
  • Song Sparrow Research

  • Sean Jewell
  • Zambri