Fourteen years after the release of their first album, Silver Jews finally got around to making a stop in Indianapolis. It was the band’s 101st show (not 106th as noted in this publication a week ago), a milestone head Jew David Berman made a point of emphasizing before the band kicked into the first song on their setlist, “Smith and Jones Forever.”
Any fears about a set packed with new material were put to rest by the end of the show. They hit all the sweet spots – the shimmering, gorgeous “Trains Across the Sea,” the fist-raising anthem “Punks in the Beer Light,” the line-for-line brilliant “Random Rules” and the standout track from their latest record, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, “Suffering Jukebox.”
Backed by his touring band, which helped imbue Berman’s oftentimes stagnant, bare arrangements with more than enough soul, Berman is obviously the star of the show. His genius is practically unparalleled in indie rock circles — particularly lyric-wise.
He’s an odd fellow, and it shows. Midway through one of his songs, Berman suddenly ambled off stage, poured himself some coffee or tea and walked back onstage. Yet for the anti-rock star, Berman is surprisingly engaged.
But more so than the average show, this was about the music. For the majority of the crowd, this was the first time anyone had heard Silver Jews material performed in a live setting. The band slowed most of the material down – it worked for “Smith and Jones Forever,” but not so much for “Random Rules,” which drew the nuances of Berman’s vocal phrasing out far too much for comfort.
Early Silver Jews were reportedly dull affairs, with Berman reading his lyrics off a music stand. They never toured, and Berman’s refusal to do so had taken on an almost mythical status. They’ve clearly grown, and as Berman has made a point of mentioning in his NUVO interview, he’s grown acclimated to the pressures and expectations of the touring life.
Finnish act The Mattoid opened for the Jews, and despite Berman’s implicit seal of approval, it’s not clear what possessed the Silver Jews to tap the band to open for them. There are literally no common strands between the two acts. The Mattoid, a hyper-absurdist metal act and the alt-country Silver Jews simply stand opposed to each other.