Arrah and the Ferns
The White Rabbit Cabaret
Wednesday, May 9
Lead singer, guitarist and namesake Arrah Fisher is the only remaining member of a musical partnership that formed in Muncie in 2005 and eventually became Arrah & the Ferns. Now based in Philadelphia, the contemporary folk rock group can still draw a decent crowd in central Indiana, as evidenced by last Wednesday's show at the White Rabbit.
Their set was as much a variety show as it was a set of rock music, which made it all the more relaxed and enjoyable, as Fisher and the band joked and talked to the crowd amidst what otherwise might've been some awkward moments.
After opening up their set with the pleading, emotionally resonant song "Wake Up," from their recent EP Soldier Ghost, Fisher broke a guitar string, in the only key of which she didn't have a spare. While Fisher was locating a new string and re-stringing her axe, the band filled in gamely, playing "Tighten-Up" by Archie Bell & the Drells, and laying down a beat for an impromptu open mic, asking if there were any audience members who wanted to rap.
A brave soul named Chris got up and spat some flows for a few minutes before running out of ammo and returning to the audience. It sounds like a mess but, frankly, this is the kind of thing that makes it worthwhile to come to indie rock shows at venues like the Rabbit. You really never know what you're going to get, but it's usually pretty low-key and entertaining; the wall between the musicians and the audience almost disappears completely and you're left feeling like you're in someone's living room listening to some friends jam.
Thereafter, Arrah & the Ferns pulled things together and turned in a great set, playing most of the songs from Soldier Ghost, including the EP's title track, an up-beat bluegrass inspired shuffle. The great part about this group, and what brings me back to keep seeing them, is the way they blend folk, rock, country, and alternative, reminding me at times of Neko Case. Fisher's voice also has a way of piercing through the two guitars, bass, and drum work with a haunting and reflective warmth. She has the voice of a world-weary free spirit; she's broken some hearts, including her own, in the never-ending search for something real.
Supporting Arrah & the Ferns were Household Guns and Jascha with a solo set. Psychedelic guitar pop group Household Guns utilized bassist Ben Masbaum a little bit more on the vocals, such as on their song "So Far," which has always been a personal favorite. They played one of their newer tracks "Butterfly," a funky track which makes nice use of the keyboard, and delved right into "Everybody Wants Everbody," another track from their EP Mano y Monarch. I like what they've done integrating a keyboard into their four-part lineup, but I still wish they'd unleash a little bit more on the guitars and give lead guitarist Shawn Woolfolk more of a chance to show his chops.
I finally got to see Jascha in concert, albeit without the full Jascha lineup. His solo set was prompted at the last minute by some health issues that caused Adam Kuhn to cancel his opening set. Jascha displayed complex, deeply emotional songwriting conveyed by simple melodic lines delivered in a sweet voice that ascended occasionally to a wail. On some of his songs he had a unique way of playing the guitar like a percussion instrument, not by tapping on the body, but by they way he was playing the strings. Definitely the kind of music that deserves a careful, sit-down listening and I hope to catch the full group sometime soon.
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