In the vast spectrum of concert experiences, nothing beats a good home show. Solid turn-out no matter the day, intimate no matter the size; they’re the live music equivalent of a hand-knit sweater. And while the gentlemen of The Daredevil Christopher Wright don’t actually hail from Minneapolis, they grew up just across the river. Before another band went and made Eau Claire, WI famous, the city’s humble size caused many of its musicians to branch out to the Twin Cities, where the world-famous First Avenue & 7th Street Entry make one hell of a home field.
It’s easy for me to appreciate the dual-citizenship of Wisconsin bands like Daredevil. As a displaced Wisconsinite, I’m continually searching for familiarity (What the hell is “pop”?), which is why the double-bill of Daredevil and Vermont native Anaïs Mitchell had me especially excited. In 2010, her folk opera LP, Hadestown, was on my constant rotation. A dystopian interpretation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, it is a beautiful mix of traditional folk and cajun music that transcended my expectations for how epic narratives could be translated into music. And, I admit, the collaboration with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) didn’t hurt. The last time I saw Anaïs live, I worked at the venue for her tour that Spring, at UW – Madison. Packed, but intimate, that show in Der Rathskeller was a perfect example of what I associated with “the Madison concert experience,” and one of the last shows I attended in the city I’d called home for four years.
Despite an usual amount of emotional baggage, Sunday night I headed to 7th Street with a sense of upbeat anticipation. I could have been the only one in the room who started that way, but none of that mattered once the opener started playing. For a group of six that made their way to the Midwest by van, Brookyn’s Cuddle Magic play with surprising enthusiasm.With the casual sense of fun reserved for lifelong friends, they banter between songs about breakups that are sometimes wafting, sometimes chaotic, and always intriguing.
Though their sound is more jam than heavy production, the myriad of horns, guitars, keyboards, and percussion instruments that fill the stage harken comparisons to bands like Typhoon. Sweet, but sometimes conflicting harmonies show an interesting musical direction; particularly on songs like “Hoarders,” where Kristin Slipp’s vocals draw heavy parallels with Olivia Merilahti of The Dø.
Cuddle Magic also figured heavily into Mitchell’s set, serving as the majority of her backing band for songs off her February release, Young Man in America. Where Hadestown dealt with mythical characters in a very human way, Young Man’s stories of everyday struggle are all about the common man. Unsurprisingly, the commonality between both albums is Mitchell’s shakily intimate voice, which alternately stands strong on songs like “Dyin’ Day” or “Young Man in America” and wavers delicately on “Coming Down.”
Mitchell’s set broke in the middle with a particularly special moment as Mitchell asked for “throwback song” suggestions and the audience (myself included), loudly called for “Old-Fashioned Hat.” Off her 2007 album The Brightness, the song stands as one of the best examples of Mitchell’s particular talent for capturing true, unabashed intimacy; hauntingly obvious as she sang alone on stage. What followed was a humbling tribute to Levon Helm (drummer & singer for The Band, who died of cancer last week) with both Kristin Slipp and Rachel Ries, who played keyboards for Mitchell’s set. The sole women of the tour, they covered Helm’s “Walking Along” a cappella, in a heartfelt – if shakily rehearsed – three-part harmony. The rest of the backing band filtered on and finished the set with “You Are Forgiven,” a cathartic layering of strings and horns that slowly filled the room and then faded away.
It always takes me by surprise to suddenly find the men of The Daredevil Christopher Wright on the stage; not because I don’t know who they are or suddenly forget which concert I’m viewing, but because at every single show of theirs I’ve been to, they watch from the front of the crowd. Every time. You can’t blame them for wanting to be among the audience, of course; their fans are so enthusiastic and adoring, it can’t hurt to rub shoulders with such great attitudes. It is nearly unsettling, though, how quietly they appear in support of their tourmates before disappearing to play themselves; like some kind of Eau Claire ninja magic. Their launch into playing started just as casually, with the first quiet chords of “The Animal of Choice.”
Coming off the release of The Longsuffering EP, Daredevil stand poised to release their next album, The Nature of Things, this June. Continuing in the tradition of their previous album, In Deference to a Broken Back, the new songs seem to tackle a mess of emotional minefields with graceful lightheartedness. Where In Deference dealt with death and loss, Nature seems to be comprised of romantic conflict, as well as more complex emotional relationships. Perhaps it’s by consequence of subject matter, then, that the band is producing more musically complex songs, as seen with the tempo-shifting jam on “Blood Brother.”
Other new tracks are buoyed by the delicate simplicity that marks Daredevil’s ballads, which translate spectacularly live. “I and Thou” interweaves simplistic acoustic guitars with just a hint of percussion; enough to highlight Jon Sunde’s wavering vocals without playing against them. “Love With All Your Heart,” off the EP, exhibits a similar sense of intimacy that is inherently built into slow acoustic songs, with the addition of the wafting harmonies of Jason Sunde and Jesse Edgington.
With all their new material, it was comforting to hear older songs fit into the set. The seamless flow from “Blood Brother” into “The East Coast” was as convincing a sign of the band’s progression as anything else. Written years apart, all of Daredevil’s songs flow seamlessly together while still distinguishing themselves. My personal favorite was a slow-down of old single “We’re Not Friends” that started out with an almost reggae bass line before the Sunde brothers filled in vocals. It’s so refreshing to see artists play with their old material, and the improvised guitar riff at the end not only recharged the song itself but put it in the context of the band’s current work.
Closing out the show with “I and Thou,” Daredevil reappeared for a revamped rendition of “Acceptable Loss” as an encore. Squinting out to the dark room from behind their respective glasses, the Sunde brothers were an outpour of thanks; not only for their touring bands, but their audience: “You guys are sweet and awesome.” This trademark humility, seen across Sunday night’s bands, is what separates them from other indie acts. The amount of respect they show to their fans and fellow artists is what makes a concert transcend from “music on a stage” to a communal experience. From the crowd, the outpour of good-natured comments and responses from the stage made it evident that what bands like Daredevil have achieved may not be so much “fame” as it is a sense of connection between the group, their music, and those who listen to it. Some would refer to this as a community, others might just call it “home.”