The last time Pearl and the Beard played in D.C., I did them a great disservice by missing most of their set and subsequently giving them only a brief mention in a review of what was truly an overall wonderful show. Not much later, I reviewed their latest album effort, Killing the Darlings, and pledged that I would give them their live show justice the next time they came to town. Two weeks ago I got my chance to make good on that promise when they played a release show for their new single, “Prodigal Daughter,” to a packed house at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Northeast Washington.
Our intrepid headliners were preceded by two local bands — Drawbridges and The Torches.
The eight-piece Drawbridges took the stage first with their take on the orchestral rock sound. The group had a lot going on, to the point that it seemed like the sound technician on duty was unsure of how to handle them in the small venue. The band is anchored by guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, but that setup is joined by a cello, viola and a horn player who switches between French horn and trumpet. No single instrument was able to stand out in the mix, creating a muddy mess of sound. They’re clearly going for a heavier 90s rock meets Arcade Fire or Beirut sound, but, as played that night, it doesn’t work.
The set was at times bizarre. They were well-received by an audience that seemed filled with friends and relatives, but newcomers to their sound, likely found it difficult to grasp the music as a whole.
Though some may have been left bewildered by the first band, the second, The Torches, more than made up for it. One note I took during their set probably sums them up best: “They’re weird, but I like it.”
The Torches are another large ensemble group, which did not bode well after Drawbridges’ set. But seconds into their set it was clear that they were far and away and improvement from the last group.
Sounding more like they hail from a Louisiana bayou than the District, The Torches sound like Americana-infused Gogol Bordello with a heavy dose of Tom Waits fire and brimstone. Dark songs feature shredding banjo, harmonica and looping clarinet melodies.
They worked the now-crowded venue into a frenzy — a request for “more wiggling” from the audience near the end of their set was quickly and happily obliged. By the time they left the stage, most of the crowd was swaying along to the music, and the harmonica player had leaped down to join them.
Pearl and the Beard may have been dwarfed in number of members by both of the opening acts, but when it was time for them to play there was no doubt that they were who the audience had come to see.
The trio started their set off slowly, slotting the song of the night, “Prodigal Daughter,” in second. About half of the set came from the band’s latest album, mixed in with songs from the “Prodigal Daughter” single and a few oldies.
Despite a large and loudly chatting group surrounding the bar in the back of the room, Pearl and the Beard was able to deliver a solid set over the din. The band’s vocals are just as impeccable in a live setting as they are recorded (a note scribbled during “Hot Volcano, ” which closed out their main set simply reads, “PIPES”). Their performance of the beautiful, but soft-starting “The Lament of Coronado Brown” was the only song that truly suffered from the chatter, but the crowd seemed to regain attention at the crescendo.
After their main set, the band delivered a two-song encore featuring some of their most energetic songs, “Douglas Douglass” and “Oh, Death!” (The latter was unexpectedly a big sing along number for the bro-types in the audience.) When they left the stage they left behind a seriously satisfied crowd.