Concert Reviews

Fleet Foxes’ J. Tillman brings big sound to a small crowd at the 9:30 Club

on November 19, 2009, 2:30pm

When you go from selling out venues in minutes with one band to barely at all on your own, you have to keep a sense of humor about it. “It’s nice to play in a room that can actually house the riot that follows me everywhere,” Josh Tillman sarcastically joked to the hundred or so people that made it out to the early show. It was hard to tell if the audience was there because they knew his music, the popularity of Fleet Foxes, or because Tillman is a bit of local having grown up in Rockville just outside the city. Either way, by the end they were pleasantly surprised at what Tillman had in store, joined in on the jokes, and enjoyed every note of the night.

Tillman’s solo career has been a long but often overlooked one. Starting out with the intimate hushed acoustics of 2005’s I will Return, he has managed to build his sound quite gracefully over the past four years to what it is on this year’s Year in the Kingdome. To help him fill out the songs for the stage, he brought along four friends and all the necessary pieces to show that this was going to be far from a quiet night of folk and country.

“When I Light Your Darkened Room” kicked things off with a slower start, letting each band member come in one at time. Steele slides, chimes, and electric accents coated his acoustics with a richness, and built the song up, right into the next one. Set wise, he would spread things out evenly amongst his seven records, with a slight lean on the latest. “With Wolves” from 2006’s Minor Works came out as a great old school country cautionary tale leading into “Vacilando Territory”.

tillman3 Fleet Foxes J. Tillman brings big sound to a small crowd at the 9:30 Club

The best moments of the night came when they let lose, hitting hard with “Howling Light”, and crashing through with “Crosswinds”. The later saw Tillman hammering on a vertical cymbal he had set up as the other band mates entices feedback from their instruments leading to a smashing halt that no one expected. The energy was then calmed a bit with “Though I have Wronged You”, another selection from his latest release, but was quick turn back to the walls of sonic squeals and alt-country goodness.

All this action ended up blowing out one of the amps causing him to turn one acoustic song into a joke about the moment. A bottle of Jameson that had been in arms reach the whole night was passed around as they tried to solve the problem. Once fixed they launched into the darker selections of “An Occurrence at the River Jordan”, and the ode to the occult, “There is no Good in Me”.

Roadhouse rock would close out the first round of song before Tillman came back out for three more solo. “This is really blowing my mind, it’s mostly the crystal meth though”, he joked on the riled up audience before the first notes of “James Blues”. The title track from his latest record would finish the night off as Tillman walked off the stage happy, and a little humbled at the amount of people that made it out since, in his words, “we only sold like five advance tickets”.

I can say now that I had no idea what I was in for last night. His show, like his song writing, had a flow. It would start slow, but by the end (before the encore) cymbals, and guitars were at full volume, and more times then not, ended up on the floor. It was not a night of quite folk, but one of loud emotion and alternative country. While Fleet Foxes may revel in their quiet harmonies, Tillman’s sound was far from it, not afraid to be loud and destructive and in the same breath intimate and compelling. After last night, Tillman proved he’s the best-kept secret in alt-country, and not just the drummer from some Seattle folk band.

tillman4 Fleet Foxes J. Tillman brings big sound to a small crowd at the 9:30 Club

tillman1 Fleet Foxes J. Tillman brings big sound to a small crowd at the 9:30 Club

tillman2 Fleet Foxes J. Tillman brings big sound to a small crowd at the 9:30 Club

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