"Lend Me Your Voice"
Nelson Music Room, Duke University, Durham
November 1, 2013
Premiering Friday, Nick Sanborn's "Lend Me Your Voice" program sought to highlight musicians who often occupy supporting roles. All seven players—Sanborn included and surrounded by guitarist William Tyler, bassist Bradley Cook and many others—have shifted at least some focus to their own pursuits, and the night offered promising glimpses of several upcoming works. But what made the show special was watching them support each other. Each is known for making the sort of subtle gestures—a crisp guitar lick here, a well-timed drum roll there—that can elevate a performance from solid to exceptional. Gathered together, they made almost every song feel like a rare treat, a fleeting pleasure never to be heard again.
Playing in the round at the center of Duke University's intimate Nelson Music Room, the musicians joined Sanborn one at a time. The Megafaun bassist offered rambling but insightful commentary on each artist's career before they played a song solo. They then joined whoever else was onstage and played one more. Once everyone had taken the stage, all six got a chance to front the whole group. These full-band renderings were by far the most compelling.
Nashville guitarist Tyler started with a wispy, unguarded performance of "Tears and Saints," a poignant solo piece from his first album. It was gripping, but his subsequent offerings were better. Backed by Sanborn on bass and Megafaun mate Brad Cook on guitar, Tyler turned in a version of "Cadillac Desert" that was full but delicate, punctuated by Sanborn's probing plucks and Cook's patient drone. "The Green Pastures," which he performed with the full ensemble, benefited mightily from moving pedal steel—courtesy of Field Report's Chris Porterfield—and the smooth cries of Amelia Meath and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. Tyler's recordings—particularly on this year's Impossible Truth—build his driving patterns into rich but restrained orchestrations. Friday, he was able to pull that off live.
"Lend Me Your Voice" was defined and elevated by such moments. Megafaun drummer Joe Westerlund showed off some of the tunes he creates as Grandma Sparrow, tales from his own twisted fairy tale where he plays all of the characters. Solo, he was hilarious, skillfully smacking cymbals and skins as he interacted with pitch-shifted recordings of his voice. Away from the drum kit with everyone else backing him, he was able to accent his whimsy with more pronounced gestures and expressions.
There were many moments like this—Porterfield's sweeping "Pale Rider," Cook's weary recasting of the Megafaun song "Real Slow"—where one player's strengths were amplified by the kindred spirits surrounding them. These artists know well that collaborating is a two-way street, that you give it 100 percent whether you're leading the band or just holding down a steady groove. Friday night, there were no weak links, just seven talented people working apart and together.
The INDY caught a few essential moments on video, thanks to Dan Schram: