The Creative Alliance at the Patterson Theater
July 29, 2011
In 2009, Steve Hefter was in the middle of ending a long term relationship and doubtful about his future in many ways. Then he recorded Selma, a guitar-and-voice follow-up to his brilliant indie rock record Twist and Hold Till Morning, and moved to Portland in the middle of the ensuing tour (with no notice or prior announcement beyond a Facebook status that read “Steve Hefter moved to Portland”). While in Portland, he found a great acceptance for the folk and roots music that has always been at the heart of his playing, and recorded Spirit Animal under the pseudonym St. Even.
Hefter made his way back to Baltimore to show off his new beard and songs for a homecoming concert at the Creative Alliance, where he was joined by a four-piece horn section and, later in his set, members of his backing band And Friends and Friends of Friends Mike Ward (piano), George French (guitar), and Greta Thomas (violin). Local recording engineer and former Oxes drummer Chris Freeland and Fancy Face frontman Chris Myers held down the rhythm section and provided a goodly number of people named Chris. Vocalist Katie Field reprised a pair of duets she recorded with Hefter on Selma.
Spirit Animal is a quiet record, mixing nylon string guitar pluckery with experimental elements and deep roots in Americana and Pentecostal hymn structure and melody. Hefter has never been shy about using any sound he can get away with on a record, and even a Casio makes an appearance as a drum set on one track. Live, the folksier elements—of a sort owing more to Bach than Bob—are clearer, and the horn section, rather than bringing a soul band sound to the songs, instead calls to mind a pipe organ and the jazz splashes of Astral Weeks.
His time in Portland has been good to Hefter. Even though his voice and songwriting have remained consistent for years, he has somehow managed sound even more like himself with his new music.
Four videos from the show appear on Driftwood’s YouTube channel. Here’s my favorite of the bunch:
After Hefter’s set, Fancy Face took the stage for their CD release show. The most recent brainchild of Chris Myers and Mike Ward — who also created the Egg Babies Orchestra (a supergroup cover band that learns, in a pretty brutal boot camp during the week of the show, a completely new set each time they play) — plays the kind of 1970s-style country-tinged singer-songwriter material that Myers has been writing since he dissolved Water School in 2008. Myers makes no attempts to hide his love of artists like Elvis Costello; Jackson Browne; and, especially with this project that has a whopping five stellar vocalists, Fleetwood Mac.
Like many of Myers’s recent projects, this is a supergroup of sorts: Judd, of Judd and Maggie (keys and guitar), and Jason Butcher (drums) provide nearly constant harmonies, and guitarist George French and utility man Timothy Bracken (on bass here) add their own vocal touches throughout. Keyboardist Mike Ward calls the band his “dream vocal band,” but concedes that he’s the only member who doesn’t sing.
Fancy Face comes across as one of those impossibly fully-conceived groups right out of the gate. Their playing was tight where it needed to be, and they are completely at ease with each other on stage. Two covers rounded out the set of Myers originals, a knock-out performance of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” and a big, fun, messy party ending of “End of the Line,” where everyone got to sing a verse. “My Elizabeth” and a duet with Kelly Butcher, “Top of the Wheel,” were standouts among a strong set of originals.
We have four videos from the band’s set up on our YouTube channel. Here’s my favorite of the bunch:
You can download Fancy Face’s new record for as little as nothing on their bandcamp site, or stream the whole thing right here:
—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)
[edit: changed the link for Steve Hefter to his new website]