The Moondoggies’ Acoustical Acoustics

San Francisco has Grace Cathedral, New York St. John the Divine. Here in Seattle, St. Mark’s Cathedral is the city’s most awe-inspiring—and unlikely—concert venue. Props go to Nathan Marion for booking intermittent shows there, like the one this past Saturday, which featured the Moondoggies, Shenandoah Davis and Mirah. Previous winning bills included Damien Jurado, Kelli Schaefer and My Brightest Diamond.

The architecture of the place is a result of its history; it was never fully finished before it opened in the 1940s, and to this day its soaring concrete construction feels dramatically modern and raw, austere where similar edifices are ornate. Most impressive are the acoustics of the place: Within its 60′-tall concrete chamber, sound lingers interminably. Musicians have described a “three-second reverb,” initially confounding to perform wth but ultimately angelic.

The Moondoggies played fully acoustic, standing side-by-side across the cathedral’s low stage. Carl Dahlen forewent the drum kit for pure vocals; Caleb Quick was often instrumentless, too, and played St. Mark’s grand piano for a few songs. Bob Terreberry, normally on bass, played mandolin, a first, and new-guy-no-more Jon Pontrello picked at a banjo. Seth Warren of Sons of Warren Oates sat in on fiddle for much of the set. Lead singer Kevin Murphy was on acoustic guitar; his three-part harmonies with Quick and Dahlen reached the heavens. In this format, Murphy’s lyrics stood out, especially on new song “Stop Signs,” which is as potent as anything the band has done. Beer-swilling singalongs like “I’m Going Down to Die” were downshifted to plucky, twangy hymns. Murphy ended the too-short set with a solo song, “A Lot of People on My Mind.” This one showcased the cathedral’s copious reverb:

Opener Shenandoah Davis filled the room with her gorgeous, acrobatic voice and heavy piano. Backed by Warren on electrified violin and Sean Nelson on vocals, her new songs sounded especially weighty in this setting. We’re looking forward to hearing more of her new stuff. 

Mirah, who went on second though she was ostensibly headlining, couldn’t stand up to the room. Her voice lacked the oomph necesary to send it caroming off the walls and instead it ended up lost. Accompanied by a violinist, her songs loped along midtempo without much shift in dynamic or volume. She was clearly enamored with the setting, but at over an hour long, her set dragged into tedium, never taking advantage of St. Mark’s incomparable acoustics.