by M. Lewis Barker
Local band Parlor Hawk is soon going to tour Malaysia, stopping by Singapore and many cities I’ve never heard of. As a sendoff to Provo for the summer, they didn’t play a big show at Velour or block off the street in front of Sammy’s. Instead, the Great Salt Lake Guitar Company was gracious enough to clear out its large back room and host an intimate show to a few dozen people. (I like how that is “intimate” for Parlor Hawk. My band has never played to an audience as big as last night’s.) Guitars lined the walls, with signs warning us not to play them “during after hours events” woven between their frets. To my chagrin, they lined the carpet with chairs, making the show feel less like a concert and more like a recital. Rounding out the lineup were two newer bands, Gothen and The Old Grey Geese.
(Is it just me or has it been a really long time since the last concert review? Unless of course, you count the Arcade Fire and Sugar Ray reviews.)
Gothen, named after a city in Sweden, is a three-piece experimental band. Their instrumentation is traditional: guitar, keyboard, and drums (though the toy melody harp certainly added a unique flavor). But their songwriting is much more avant garde. Vocal harmonies with heavy reverb and delay create a whimsical dreamscape. The use their voices as instruments, often foregoing lyrics in favor of extended vowels. Gothen is hit and miss though. Their efforts to stand out lead to some beautiful music, but occasionally a song becomes awkward as though the ideas haven’t yet solidified themselves. They relied perhaps too heavily on samplings and electronic percussion when they could have performed those parts live. Overall though, it was refreshing to see something so anomalous at an indie folk show. I liked the grand majority of what they were doing and hope to see them continue.
The Old Grey Geese also has guitar, keyboard, and drums, but they use their instruments to make much more conventional music. The band is fronted by singer/songwriter Daniel Hanks, with his two bandmates acting more as support than contributors, though they add so much to Hanks’ music that it would be a sin for me to discount their roles. Hanks writes Provo’s favorite music, Omaha-esque Indie Folk, and the band plays it well. He has a haunting voice, singing with the required emotion, and he knows his way around a guitar. There is a lot of talent in this band, and I predict that they will become well known in the scene – not only due to their stylistic choices, but to the fact that just play it so damn well.
Once their openers warmed up the audience, Parlor Hawk took the stage. It was my first Parlor Hawk show, despite their prominence in the scene and the fact that I run a website about the scene. Now I understand why if you type “parl” into Google, it already wants to add “or hawk”. The band was featured on iTunes 2010 “Indie Spotlight” and sits with Fictionist in prominence in the post-Neon Trees Provo. All of that is because they’re just a very good band of solid musicians and songwriters.
For those who are not familiar with them, Parlor Hawk is the quintessential “Provo Folk” band. (Can I start calling it “Provolk” yet? No?) It’s American Folk music dipped heavily in Country/Western with a Rock and Roll sensibility but stripped down enough to be Indie. Willie Nelson meets Death Cab, basically. It’s hard to say that Parlor Hawk has a distinctive sound, as there are countless other bands nestled between the coasts who play this style. What sets our Provo heroes apart is how well they play it. I used to live adjacent the band’s lead guitarist, and I would hear him constantly jamming with future Parlor Hawk members in the garage. (Fresh off my mission, one of the first things I did was awkwardly wander into the garage where I met T.J. Nokleby and Andrew Dyer when I heard the sound of drums one night.) My roommates hated their practicing, and I’ll admit I wasn’t fond of their long, monotonous experimentation, but I couldn’t deny the musicality. All that practice has paid off in the form of Parlor Hawk, and it’s nice to see their talents used for Good instead of Annoying-the-Neighbors.
It’s not my favorite music. Older readers will recall my oft mentioned rant against the over-saturation of Indie Folk in Provo. I probably won’t be buying Parlor Hawk CDs and wearing their t-shirts. But I recognize a talented band when I see it, and Parlor Hawk deserves all the attention they’ve gotten and all the success in the world. I wish them the best of luck in Singapore and wherever their travels take them.