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Arts, City, Music

M. Ward @ M. Hall, Tuesday Oct. 12

Posted by Drew / September 14, 2006

ward2.jpg Stand 3 feet back and squint your eyes; in 60 seconds you will see a sailboat.

What to say about M. Ward, the man who is all there except that he is nowhere and all his talents seem to be those of another guy, a guy standing a mere cat-swing away who does what Ward does and does it better. And sure he seems nice and seems, perhaps, fated to the fate of all nice guys, but I can’t even take a picture worth a cheap damn.

Championed by Howie Gelb (and, really, he does seem like Gelb’s long lost, younger brother), Ward is signed to Merge and plays like a hybrid amalgamation of the Merge artists' back catalog. He does it all in a voice to which all the cliches apply: whiskey soaked, 3-pack-a-day, long-weekend-train-wreck-on-a-velvet-railway.

For one brief moment I thought that voice would tip the scales in Ward’s favor. That and the 2 drummers.

2 drummers are something I have seen a few bands playing around with lately, but this is the first time I have seen it come close to working. Set-up on opposite back corners of the stage the 2 had a drum jam going on that brought an unusual sonic layer to the mix.

I liked the pop-folk vibe, the exact mid-point between Townes Van Zandt and Brian Wilson that a lot of shaggy American guys and gals are doing these days.

Not much banter to the audience, just, you know, a bunch of people who love playing together.

And Ward does love playing, and many players love him. Apparently he has projects on the go with Conor Oberst and My Morning Jacket.

But I think of artists like Richard Buckner, also on Merge, and coming soon to Petit Campus; he made his personal story and heartbreak fodder for 2 haunting, almost unforgettable albums. Or I think of Andrew Bird and how tired he looked when he played last spring, but even bone tired he killed—and sent the crowd into quiet pandemonium.

Ward looks like he could never be tired or heartbroken—of course, he has been both, I am sure, but he gives off an almost annoying, preternatural healthy sense of self and his place in the world. Not joyful but complacent.

And so the moment to get with Ward passes.

Rather than hooking us and reeling us in, Ward and his players break into a Tex-Mex-like hootenanny that never took off cause nobody had quite reached the point to take off with them.

Ward has a voice. But compared to almost every other artist playing in his field Ward comes up lacking: Buckner without Buckner’s palpable sense of a man who live and dies by his own self-destructive-redemptive romanticism; Gelb without Gelb’s utterly oddball personality and old-time troubadour sensibility; Smog without Smog’s knowing irony, world weariness, and emotional intelligence; Andrew Bird without Bird’s edge.

All in all it felt way too much like a Tuesday night.

God, why am I so fucking harsh today? You could certainly have done worse than see the show. And I hear he can do a maniac cover of David Bowie’s Fame.



Christy / September 14, 2006 at 02:46 pm
I really like this review. Then again, that's how I feel about the vast majority of not-more-nor-less "decent" indie bands that get blown out of proportion by fans looking for a reason to get up in the morning.

P.S. I can't stand Conor Oberst.
J Mac / September 14, 2006 at 03:04 pm
Yeah, I wish Drew wasn't so busy so that she'd write more of these. Quelle way with words.
asmaa / September 15, 2006 at 10:44 am
nice review, drew ... there are few things more annoying than listening to a guy who thinks he's got all his shit together ... because, obviously, he's lying.
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