The Seattle band City Of exist in that space, on the edge of consciousness, but soon everyone will be alive to their pleasures. The Wednesday night crowd at the Showbox was already on the edge of consciousness, for better or worse. The gentlemen at the table next to mine were loudly pounding tequila shots when one of them leaned over to ask me, "So, is the band warming up?"
"No," I said, "this is their set."
"Oh," he said, "I couldn't tell."
I moved down in front of the stage.
The set was beautiful. City Of songs, like morning, creep slowly over you with a warm, delicious denouement: They shift and change so organically that it's like watching grass grow. Fragments of ideas become bifurcated flashes of sense, which shatter into a million tiny diamonds of electricity that ricochet around your synapses until you're finally able to follow the ambling melodies around the effortless and clear voice of City Of's Olivia Mendez.
Her voice is City Of's bedrock. While other bands settle for a singer, which can be like tying an iron anvil around the neck of the band, City Of has the best vocalist in Seattle and uses her sparingly. Mendez could easily top the short list of esteemed local female vocalists: Corin Tucker, Carrie Akre, and Heather Duby would struggle to match the ease and class of Mendez's voice. With the kind of confidence that comes from having nothing to prove, Mendez doesn't belt, shriek, or hiccup; she doesn't rely on breathy tricks or flash. In fact, her vocals sit nuzzled into the songs, a contribution to the integrity of the music.
The drowsy indie rock of City Of is perfectly bedheaded -- a little mussed up, but ultimately infused with refreshing daylight. The three members -- Mendez on vocals and either guitar or drums, guitarist/bassist Rob Hunt, and Ben Torrance on bass or drums -- are guileless and winning, cracking a smile when they catch each other's eyes on stage and taking obvious delight in their own music. It's a much-needed wake-up call.