Arriving at the Biltmore into an already-crowded room, the sound of simultaneous conversations washed over me. It was clear that Cate Le Bon, Welsh singer-songwriter and the night’s headliner, had a strong following in the city. As I moved further into the venue towards the stage, I realized that Mega Bog, the opening band from Seattle, had already begun.
Moving through the talkative crowd, it was only within 10 feet of the stage that I could hear the music clearly. A strange ensemble of a singer / guitarist, keyboard player, bassist, and clarinetist occupied the stage, performing pared-down, pastoral soundscapes. While I was taken by their intricate and unique sound, I was in the minority. Mega Bog finished their quick set to applause from the few listening to them, and the stage crew began to rearrange for the main act.
Accompanied by her three-piece band, all donning Le Bon’s eye makeup from the cover of her latest release Crab Day, Cate Le Bon arrived on stage to audience applause. As the crowd pushed forward and packed tighter, Le Bon offered a direct and simple “Hello” as introduction, before diving directly into the music.
While her music has been attributed to a plethora of musical genres — from neo-psychedelic-art-pop to simply folk — the only word that came to my mind to describe her music was janky. I don’t know if this is a real word, but in my mind, it captures everything there is to love about Cate Le Bon’s sound. It’s all over the place, it’s scrappy, it sounds thrown together, but it’s actually carefully constructed to be that way.
After the first flurry of songs, Le Bon stopped to more fully greet the eager crowd. “Thanks for being here,” she said as the backing band began trading instruments. “We drove 27 hours straight to be with you. I think this might be the best crowd yet. I also think I might be delirious.”
With all the guitars and basses in the new configuration, they played “Wonderful,” one of Crab Day’s first singles. It was during this song that janky appeared in my head. The drums spasmodically counted out a quick tempo, the bass line jumped all around, the two guitars traded off jerky bursts of dissonant chords, and Le Bon’s voice twirled above it all. Darting through its verses, “Wonderful” decayed into a (dare I say) wonderful pile-up of noise in its chorus, in which every part seemed to move at a different tempo. The harmonies slid away into discordant mash-ups of notes, and Le Bon’s voice wailed out over the chaos a simple declaration: “Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!”