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REVIEW: Hey Marseilles brought charm and foot stomping to CSPS

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Kelli Sutterman / Admin  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 4:17 pm   ::  

As Hey Marseilles returned to the CSPS stage for an encore Sunday night (6/30), guitarist and lead vocalist Matt Bishop noted something about the capacity crowd’s reaction to the band’s performance. “It is rare,” he said, “that bands with cellos get foot stomping.”

The Seattle-based orchestral-pop band with the rhyming name boasts not only a cello, played by Sam Anderson, but a viola played by Jacob Anderson. The two-man string section is not a gimmick, but is instead essential to the band’s lush and unique sound. That sound is rounded out by Philip Kobernick on keyboard and accordion, Nick Ward on electric guitar, and Colin Richey on drums.

Richey’s textured and engaging drumming is another prime driver of the band. He did far more than just keep time, often providing not only a rhythmic through line but a quasi-melodic one, as well.

For his part, Bishop is a simply outstanding vocalist. His warm, appealing voice is the perfect vehicle for the band’s songs, many of which feature tales of travel and images from the natural world. The band’s lyrics always sound easy in Bishop's mouth, each word the right word, each image clear and often arresting. Here for example if the first verse of “Café Lights,” which the band performed mid-set:

“Hold your map upright so the clouds and coast align/They’ve got old wars won, a bright brown sun, the crowds to sing alright/The lion’s share can rest as we sit in café lights/In a neighborhood where all that should may or may not be right.”

As the band’s performance came to an end, the crowd’s reaction, complete with the aforementioned foot stomping, was perhaps the most enthusiastic I’ve ever witnessed at CSPS. It was certainly well deserved.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based Phox opened the show. The band is both quirky and a bit awkward in a mostly charming sort of way. The band’s bass player also provided flute and clarinet solos which added an interesting texture to the band’s sound, as did the trumpet solos performed by one of the guitarists. A banjo is a mainstay of the instrumentation, as well, but it was difficult to hear throughout most of the performance.

Indeed, a less than ideal sound mix plagued Phox. The band can deliver beautiful vocals—as was made very clear, indeed, by a four-part a cappella number called “No Lion” that was the highlight of the set—but those vocals were mostly lost when the band was playing. It appeared that lead singer Monica Martin was having some trouble, as well, as she coughed frequently and kept a drink handy at all times.

Still, the band’s often rootsy sound (which was shot through with several other influences) was engaging and the audience was appreciative.

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