Last night I was told by an “outsider” that music fans in Indiana, especially Bloomington, seem to “get it” when it comes to turning their attentions to an artist at a live show. In return, I have to say that there is something about musicians from Eau Claire, Wisconsin in which they seem to have an amazing ability to take the sounds of the north midwestern outdoors, and package them neatly in a song. Everything from the lyrics, to the percussion, to the vocal and instrumental voices seem to paint imagery in my head of wooded landscapes, autumn sunsets, and brisk wind. I felt it the first time I heard Bon Iver, I felt it with S. Carey, and I felt the same mesmerizing sounds last night watching an acoustic, living room set by Eau Claire band Kalispell.
In a small, lamp-lit living room with sand-colored walls and hardwood floors, guitarist/songwriter Shane Leonard, pedal steel player Ben Lester, and percussionist Dave Power transported a roomful of curious listeners to a quiet campfire surrounded by trees under a canopy of stars. Instead of just sharing their music with us, it was like they were sharing a bit of their hearts, a bit of who they are in that way that common strangers suddenly become friends at a summer campfire. The music was beautiful. That’s the best and most appropriate word to describe it. And even with such a light set up — Leonard switching between two guitars and a banjo, and Power using simply a floor tom, snare, cymbal, and his foot for a bass drum)– the trio’s sound engulfed the room and captivated listeners.
Everything about this music was lovely. All three musicians and equally talented and complement each other extremely well. Each member contributes to at least one other musical project: Leonard plays in old-time duos, jazz combos, and even on occasion sits in with Bloomington’s own Bro. Stephen (who also performed last night and is touring with the band), Lester often lends his musical abilities in S. Carey and AA Bondy, and Power beats drums in other Eau Claire bands Adelyn Rose and Meridene. Leonard even broke up the set to give us a little lesson on old-time style banjo playing. He played a little tune titled “Hop High” by old-time fiddling legend Lester McCumbers, whom Leonard was fortunate to study with recently in West Virginia. He can really rock that banjo. As for the sound of this band, I can only describe it in what I saw while I listened: the pedal steel was the wind and the breeze, the guitar set the backdrop (the trees, the grass, the sun, the trail), and drums were the feet that carried you through.
I haven’t written a show review and a long while, mainly because I just haven’t been to in a long time that truly made me feel inspired. Everything about Kalispell made me want to know more about the band, more about their music, and I suddenly desired to tell everyone I know about what they create. The quiet, intimate set (sometimes broken up by light laughter) was enough to convince me that these guys are heading toward great things. Their music is complacent and simple, yet its the subtle twists and turns and image-filled lyrics that just take a listener to another place. I picked up their latest EP on my way out, hopefully you will, too.
The band is currently on tour with Bro. Stephen, as I mentioned earlier, and probably playing in a house or venue near you very soon! Check the dates.
*Note: Frank Schweikhardt also performed at this house show. His new songs are great.