The band got louder but never gave up on finesse.
Shearwater's new album, Animal Joy, doesn't quite sacrifice the prettier moments of 2008's Rook or 2010's The Golden Archipelago, but certainly makes a point of rocking a little more bluntly. That was clear enough when the Austin band played a fierce set Sunday night at the High Noon.
Leader Jonathan Meiburg, who mostly played guitar, took to a keyboard to open with Rook's "The Snow Leopard," the piano figure of which has a whiff of Radiohead's "Pyramid Song." But the more this five-piece setup of Shearwater got into the Animal songs, the louder it got. That never meant giving up on finesse: On "Dread Sovereign," a careful three-guitar arrangement guided the cocky, swinging verses into the hefty chorus.
Meiburg's combination falsetto/bellow can sound like a strained put-on, but he writes well for his voice, and the timbres adapt to different settings as flexibly on stage as on record. He got a joyful sneer out of "You As You Were" and the uptempo, almost snotty "Immaculate." His higher ranges stayed even and clear through an encore performance of "I Was A Cloud."
The band rounded him out vocally, backing up his full-throated "Star Of The Age" and even the near-scream on "Pushing The River." Guitarist Lucas Oswald did especially admirable work translating Shearwater's sounds to the stage, handling a synth and beating on an extra floor tom for several songs.
Drummer Danny Reisch, who produced Animal Joy, drove home how eager the band was to make the songs rock. After the almost-martial syncopation of "Pushing The River," Meiburg joked with Reisch about breaking drumsticks: "I felt shrapnel hit my back in the middle of that." "Open Your Houses" is a slower song, but Reisch's beat made it seem just as bold.
Meiburg often sang with a happy snarl on his face, a look you wouldn't associate with, say, the first few tracks of Rook or 2007's Palo Santo.
The band closed its encore by throwing its weight into Palo Santo's "White Waves," one of several numbers that ended with a final lap of loud guitars and feedback. Meiburg finished the song strumming fast triplets on his guitar before smacking out the final chord. Perhaps the crowd would have been game for the band's more eerie moments -- one fellow called out for Rook's "Leviathan, Bound" -- but a rowdier Shearwater had its own dynamic layers to offer, and plenty more catharsis.
Milwaukee's Coo Woo began the evening with a balance of punky tempos and clean-toned guitars. Some of the band's members were in the Milwaukee post-punk band Worrier, and they've carried over elements of that group's guitar sound, a cheerful snap that almost tries to emulate a steel drum. Singer Paula Gunther and guitarist/singer Scott Anderson brought across the playful side of the band's new release Love Exposure, and overall Coo Woo managed to be bright and fluffy without being weak.
Second was Madison's All Tiny Creatures, whose electronic-art-rock release Harbors came out last year. Like Shearwater, they summoned a healthy thud to go with their prettier side.