Both Widowspeak and Quilt occupy a similar stylistic domain — sleepy, sun-drenched ditties that recall coastal road trips and summer longing. Hosted by ASUC Superb, the bands’ performances on Sproul Plaza on Friday, then, served as a seasonal time capsule — an immediate influx of sunshine for Berkeley’s long, post-daylight savings time nights.
With the frigid Pacific winds that came during the sunset, one would be inclined to envision the night as a beachside affair — a languid venture into the last days of perpetual sunshine.
The sky darkened over the course of Quilt’s opening set. The Boston-based four-piece harnessed its vibrant, psychedelia-infused pop songs into a set that bloomed and shone in spite of the dimming sun.
Lead singers Shane Butler and Anna Rochinski rarely broadened their vocal range beyond a hush. Whether they traded their vocal duties off or married their uniform vocals into lush harmonies, the voices were merely another instrument in their arsenal. In fact, even the tunes from Quilt’s new LP set to release next February — some of which Quilt featured in its set — melded smoothly, with free-flowing riffs and subtle instrumental flourishes.
The quiet of the band’s harmonies set the mood for much of the night. Yet the compact, slowly expanding audience grooved in appreciation of the band’s smooth, low-key fun. Quilt’s set drew in plenty of passers-by — appealing in its effortlessly composed sense of raucousness. The band’s set performance ran so smoothly, in fact, that its lackadaisical tones languished without direction on occasion. With the intricacies decorating Quilt’s performance, the band threatened to shroud the duo’s hushed vocals with a sometimes-aimless sonic barrage.
In effect, the mood of the layered instrumentation resonated more clearly than any of the band’s individual songs.
Widowspeak, then, served as the tranquil, intimate companion to the drone-like atmosphere of Quilt’s set. In its sparkling, wide-angled clarity, lead singer Molly Hamilton’s luminescent voice rang through the band’s sparse adornments. Hamilton’s vocals, billowy and soft, sounded equally resigned and pained as she navigated through the country-indebted dirges of the New York-via-Washington band’s latest album, All Yours.
Widowspeak’s tunes unfurled through the open spaces of the Upper Sproul grounds. Vibrant and golden, its music was a sonic beam of light through the band’s nighttime set. A plodding drum beat, some harmonica and minimal guitar riffs set the stage for Hamilton’s lovely, feather-light voice as she mused on distance and loss.
One can draw comparisons between Widowspeak’s offerings and the late-night waltz of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” Yet, where “Fade into You” revels in the intimacy of late-night confessionals, the band’s set played as the daytime B-side — the sobering glow of the morning light giving way to the realizations of regret.
Still, the band’s barebones melancholia carried itself well in the open-air live space —
The minimal chords of the record, coupled with Hamilton’s plaintive swooning, translated excellently in-person with the studio gloss stripped off. Tunes from All Yours such as the titular track and set highlight “Narrows” shone, as the easy arrangements drifted off without a hitch. The band’s unfussy performance spoke volumes through its soft-spoken casualness.
In spite of Widowspeak’s smooth sonic twang, the band was marred by a couple of woes. Hamilton nearly electrocuted herself with the microphone until she doohickied a bandana around the device. At one point, she remarked that she was shivering and singing at once — a testament to the Bay Area’s cold-water breezes, even for the Brooklyn resident.
“You guys have lots of beautiful trees on your campus,” Hamilton bantered early into the band’s set. Not an entirely off-kilter sentiment — our evergreens and redwoods are stunning, majestic entities. Yet, Hamilton’s observation felt entirely appropriate. Both Widowspeak and Quilt peddled a pastoral worldview — a classical, reverence to nature that allowed an escape from the day-to-day ennui of urbanity.
The harmonica of “Girls” — the night’s haunting closer — rang through the hallowed grounds of the Berkeley campus. It was hard not to feel sad at that moment — not for the loves lost Widowspeak crooned for, but for the loss of just stopping and enjoying the view of the beautiful trees once in awhile.