A couple of things about the latest incarnation of Shearwater:
- They are nothing like the original band. Until this tour, Shearwater have featured Kim Burke on upright bas and sundry other instruments, plus the inimitable Thor on drums, glockenspiel, etc. Both of these members, with their strong characters, provided visual interest as well as a range of musical light and shade which helped make Shearwater really different and really special.
- Lazy journalists keep comparing them to Talk Talk. This is completely inaccurate apart from the occasional hint of Mark Hollis in Jonathan Meiburg’s tremulous vocals in the (very rare) quiet bits.
I saw the new Shearwater at SXSW a couple of weeks ago and went to Oxford the check I hadn’t been hallucinating. They’ve turned into a rock band. A competent and quite interesting one, for sure, but with now with the traditional rock range of instrumentation and little more visual appeal than any indie outfit. This might mean that first-timers would be impressed.
New drummer Danny Reisch, while no Thor, is strong. Second guitarist Mitch Billeaud seems to add very little apart from some dry humour. The new songs (‘Dread Sovereign’, ‘Star Of The Age’) are all short and simple (the “prog” tag now even more inaccurate than it ever was). Meiburg’s voice, its vast range straining against the backing, is still a thing of wonder. And when he returned to the stage on his own with ‘Hail Mary’, there was a brief reminder of what used to be.
According to the band’s website, this is a temporary arrangement. Let’s hope so.