Sometimes, the setting matters. Washington, D.C.’s Cedars deliver an expansive Anglophile form of indie rock that is best suited for strolls down green, Middle Earth-esque lolling hills, or walks down wide, empty avenues, the morning after a rain.
Unfortunately, playing in the far lower vista of Brooklyn’s Union Hall (QRO venue review) on March 30th, some of that magic was lost. But that isn’t to say the band didn’t touch some hearts, albeit in a subtler, more restrained way.
After the release of their excellent EP, Another Season (QRO Review), it wouldn’t have been surprising had Cedars stuck largely to that script. However, it isn’t just the band’s sound that is growing; it is also their repertoire. Instead of opening with Another Season’s excellent first track, “This Century”, the band opened with a darker, more poignant piece not found on Season, “Broken”. Probably a wise choice, given the limited horizons of Union Hall’s cellar-like downstairs venue, it set a more heartrending tone for the entire performance. This tone not only flowed directly into the next numbers, Season’s “The Great Escape” and “Black Book”, but built as well, with “Black Book” really forging an emotional connection with the audience, over shared sadness.
Following one of their EP’s top two songs with the other would seem like a good idea, but there was something not quite right about their jump that night from “Black Book” to “This Century”. Maybe it was the jovial nature that singer/guitarist Brian Leatherman displayed between the two songs, joking about an audience member stepping up onto the stage to talk to bassist Francisco Lazzaro, or about a friend in the audience’s dare to “Take it off!” Or maybe it was that the hopeful “Century” is really a born-and-bred opener – a mood-setter, not a mood-changer. Or maybe it was the song’s brevity, clocking in at under half of its recorded length on Another Season. But most likely it was that, while “Black Book” was an excellent piece that was perfectly suited to its environs, “This Century” was an excellent piece that was not.
Their wings clipped, Cedars shifted back to a deeper vein with two non-Season tracks. “Mercury”, the piece that directly followed “Century”, did a particularly fine job of returning the show to form, without being too jarring. Such probably would have been the case, had the band just gone from Another Season’s first number to its second, “Holiday for the City”, which instead they delivered near the end of their set. Obviously well fitting for the urban setting, “Holiday” also managed to slip in some hope into the often-somber performance, without breaking the night’s stride. It didn’t serve as a perfect lead-in to the night’s ender, “Arrivals/Departures”, as the five-minute-plus finale could have used a little more of a build-up beforehand, but the crashing wall of sound that concluded the evening was a strong send-off.
For a fresh, unsigned band like Cedars, they’re going to play a lot of places that aren’t quite right for them. And this mismatch has much to do with their sound being commendably mature beyond their years. More importantly, in the face of such a divergence like the one they faced at Union Hall, Cedars are largely clever enough to adjust their sails accordingly.