Friday, March 21, 2014

Lost In The Trees at The Echo - March 20, 2014


I always end up being unexpectedly overwhelmed by Lost In The Trees every time I see them. Thursday night, March 20, at The Echo proved to be no exception. Touring for the first time as a stripped down combo, departing from the large orchestral make up of the band before, they look more like a rock band now. It's an interesting direction for them to take, with no loss whatsoever on the impact they have on stage.

And this new ensemble is what makes their new album, Past Life, such a surprising departure from their previous releases. I'll have to admit, I was surprised at the crowd that pushed their way to the front as the band came on stage, with an urgency usually reserved for big, popular bands. Their audiences usually remind me of the studious and academic audience you would see at an Andrew Bird or Okkervil River concert. They now have an expanding fan base, probably from the heavy radio play of  Past Life. This makes me very happy as they have always deserved more acclaim.

Starting off with a couple of songs from the new album, I got used to the new sound coming from the new configuration of the band. Unfortunately, from where I stood, the vocals were lacking in the sound mix during "Excos" which has subtle vocals to begin with, so I began moving around the crowded room to try to find a better sounding spot. I wasn't sure whether it was my geographical adjustment or else they had fixed the sound, but from then on the mix was perfect.

The title song, "Past Life", was next and represented precisely and flawlessly revealing the newer, almost upbeat, attitude that permeates most of the album. With many of the formerly orchestral passages replaced by funky dance beats and some prerecorded backgrounds, it surprised me to hear that it is so effective and engaging...and powerful in a live setting.

"Neither Here Nor There" from A Church To Fit Our Needs came next and was brilliantly rearranged for a five piece band sounding every bit as complex and dense as the fully orchestrated version. That took me by surprise and I realized then that his was going to be an astonishing show. From that moment on it all became a blur of new and old material, all performed for maximum impact, and lifting me higher and higher.

The new songs are no less deep, thoughtful or penetrating than their predecessors, it's just more dancey. Most of the new album was played, mixed in with some material pulled from their first two releases.All the piercing power of Ari Picker's sweet voice is here, and more, as he appears more vocally relaxed than ever. The clear, high, ethereal soprano of Emma Nadeau, a defining characteristic of Lost In The Trees since the beginning, provides the important counterpoint and is as vital to this new ensemble as ever. I have to admit the new album hadn't had time to make a big impression on me as I only bought it Tuesday. But, as has happened to me many times, to hear it live raised it way, way up in my estimation. It's a gorgeous and serious work of great inspiration and beauty. It just goes to show you, the time to make up your mind about an never. That gets truer as I get older.

The whole show was startlingly unconventional in it's stage lighting, going for stark and jarring changes that were both fueled by the music and intense in their bold contrast. The background was frequently lit up by a white light version of the Past Life album art, which would blanch out Ari's face like a headlight in the night. He asked for his mic to be upped during the song "Rites" where his writing really gets to shine; "and every harm, every violent moment, all of our faults aside, drift through rooms of white light." Stunning. The whole set sped by and I was left reeling from it, vibrating the whole next day.

photos too