Pearl and the Beard: Harmony For The Holidays

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At the average show in the average club in the average American city, the odds are that the bands on a weeknight triple bill won’t be well-matched, and at least one of the bands will leave you cold. That was not the case with the perfectly harmonic triple bill at a recent Thursday night show at Washington, D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel. Quite the opposite, actually, as you could hardly ask for a better grouping than Pearl and the Beard, Lucius, and D.C.’s own, The Sweater Set.

If The Siblings Sedaris wrote folk tunes and performed them with a cadre of instruments that include the xylophone, harmonium, accordion, flute, guitar, and kazoo, then, that would begin to describe the stylings of The Sweater Set. Amusing turns of phrase, a strong sense of irony, and a uniquely harmonic 21st century folk sensibility characterize this singer-centric duo of classically trained musicians. They drew a crowd befitting their passionate local following, one that superseded most any you’ll find at an 8pm weekday opening set.

Lucius followed with a vicious attack that showed improvement from a recent performance on the same stage, offering greater passion and synchronicity. Their luscious harmonies were often matched by tribal-strength percussion, and the matching outfits were cute, I guess, but also have the effect of resurrecting the vision of the Von Trapp Family Singers. (Whether any curtains were harmed in the making of those outfits, however, remains unknown). It does appear that two members of the band have gotten engaged since their last run down the Eastern Seaboard, which, if history is any guide, will make for an interesting intra-band dynamic going forward.

Pearl and the Beard took the stage to a full house already amped up on harmony and hops, and ready for more of both as the evening’s third harmony-centric band with serious musical chops took the stage. The crowd was given that and more as occasional allusions to Zoot Suit / The Stray Cats were interspersed within their folky foundation. Three-part harmonies took side trips into the O Brother Where Art Thou genre, and listeners were then confounded by moments where it appeared the stage was graced with the dulcet tones of a castrata, before suddenly giving way to the unmistakable tonality of a tenor. Range, clearly, is something that Jeremy Styles has in spades.

As do his bandmates, Jocelyn Mackenzie and Emily Hope Price. You can see where their quirkiness meshes with former tourmate, folk-punk priestess Ani DiFranco, as well as the retro-mustachioed Franz Nicolay, erstwhile member of The Hold Steady and co-producer of their 2011 album, Killing The Darlings. A fantastically virtuosic and dextrous cello flits in and out with alacrity as the band does more with less, fleshing out their sound with keyboards, guitar, and percussive elements in ways that frame vocals, rather than overtaking the moment(s).

If anyone present didn’t notice the charisma that is part and parcel of their presentation, they require paddles to the chest. This is perhaps Pearl’s most salient feature, an engaging sensibility that draws the audience into an intimate experience within a decidedly public setting. You could be in the midst of a living room jam session, and it would feel just as highly personal and engaging.

Not engaging enough for their liking, though. They showed their disdain for the distance created by the stage’s perch and made an acoustic entry into the crowd itself, triangulating the audience from within before gradually coalescing in the center of the venue and bringing all extant chit chat to a hard stop and creating an emotive moment that spanned the gulf between baptism and burlesque. Entering the audience is no longer a novelty, as bands act in real life to match the personalization social media has rendered in fan relations. If it were solely a device, it might already be a tired one. In this instance, though, it was a unifying clarion call to Come Together / Right Now that joined the audience in something all too rare as indie shows have become social events…complete, comfortable, and cathartic silence.

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Behrnsie has a love for music that dare not speak its name. He attends many shows and can often be found counting out the beats for no discernible reason. He played alto saxophone in his middle school jazz band, where he was best known for infuriating his instructor when it was revealed that he played everything by ear, and could not in fact read music. He takes great pride that this is the same talent/affliction that got Tori Amos kicked out of the Peabody Academy. He does not live in his parents’ basement….except during the holidays.