For all music lovers, you have a band/record/song that you feel is all yours. It isn't, of course. Unless this band is playing at the world's tiniest coffee house/dive bar and you're their only audience, other people love this band the way you do. But if you grow up in a small enough town and the band has a niche enough appeal, you can get the sense that you're the only person you know who knows them...let alone loves them the way you do.
Back home in West Virginia, Milo Greene
is that band for my sister. That may seem laughable here in NYC where they played an incredible set
at the Music Hall of Williamsburg back in March, but in Morgantown (where my sister and I went to school), there isn't an indie scene, and my sister fell in love with Marlana, Robbie, Andrew, and Curtis after an intimate Thursday tent performance at Bonnaroo 2013. They were her gateway drug to "indie" music (I hate that fucking phrase but bear with me). And, I wrote a piece months ago about how Arcade Fire's Neon Bible
was my introduction to indie music and how no one else in Philippi (where I grew up) knew them at the time despite Funeral
being one of the defining records of the aughts. But, Arcade Fire was never the band that I felt was "mine." That distinction always belonged to the Weepies
When I was a frsehman in college, I can specifically remember buying eight albums. And these eight albums aren't single-handedly responsible for me being a music critic today (that will always be Neon Bible
), but they ensured my continual path towards a broader musical palette/consumption. Those records were: Nirvana's Nevermind
, Pearl Jam's Ten
, The White Stripes' Icky Thump
, The Shins' Oh, Inverted World
, Radiohead's OK Computer
, XTC's Skylarking
, and the Weepies' Happiness
and Say I Am You
. Most of those other records are established alt/indie rock classics, but I happened to stumble upon the Weepies on the iTunes store and purchased their first two albums on a whim. I think I'd heard a snatch of "The World Spins Madly On" and was sold almost immediately. And while the Weepies will never hold the public's attention like some of those other bands, they'll always be nearer to my heart.
When I found out years later that other people had actually heard of the Weepies, I was shellshocked. The quiet restraint of Deb Talan's voice or the painfully intimate details of Steve Tannen's storytelling seemed custom-made for me. There were waves of turbulence beneath the swelling strings and tranquil melodies of the NY/Boston duo that spoke to a complexity and intensity that is rarely seen in what most folks derogatorily mark as twee folk. They wrote pop songs with layers of pain and bite but with an ear for folk hooks that was deceptive in its elegance. So, perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise that they are loved by so many. They don't have the largest audience but the Weepies have a deeply loyal audience and when I saw them at the Town Hall (the performance space; not New York's literal town hall) Saturday night, it was the perfect reward for nearly a decade of attachment to the stories and songs that the Weepies have spun.
The Weepies' Deb Talan and Steve Tannen are married, and while I often succumb to cynicism about romance in the modern age, the Weepies gave me a small modicum of hope that maybe love is actually real. Deb is a Stage 3 Breast Cancer survivor, and throughout the performance, the duo's love for each other and joy to be performing together in front of their fans was so apparent, it kept me in tears the whole night. Maybe as a critic I shouldn't say that the personal story of a band or my personal memories with their music (at least one track from Say I Am You
has made it on every single mixtape I've ever made for a significant other) or, even to an extent, the fact that I'm in a place in my life where my job is to see bands I love live had me in tears for nearly two hours but fuck it; I believe in some degree of honesty. The Weepies open themselves up to you as a band, and if you let yourself, it's natural to open yourself up back to them. And the performance Friday night was a two way street of the Weepies dropping any emotional barriers on stage as we the audience gave them our rapt attention and both audience and performer fed off this symbiotic sharing of energy.
I've never been to a show that was simultaneously so magical and understated. The only other set that I saw this year (besides seeing the Rolling Stones in Pittsburgh two weekends ago) to feel so life-affirming was when I caught the Lone Bellow
at the Music Hall but Zach Williams was a man possessed that evening. He was careening around the stage like Jerry Lee Lewis and David Byrne's unholy love child. The Weepies just played their music. Steve Tannen moved around a bit, but the music spoke for itself, and even as someone who prefers live shows where the bands put on...a show, the emotional authenticity and vulnerability of the Weepies was the only appropriate note to hit, and the evening was proof that a guy and a girl with acoustic guitars can hold your attention the whole night if their songs are good enough and the Weepies' songs are.
I'm not sure if I'd ever articulated to myself before that night all of the things that make the Weepies work. The way that it seems like Deb is always holding herself back from a torrent of raw emotion. Her voice has a scrunched quality (it's not a bad thing) and if she were to ever let herself fully go, the music might hit on a sense of overt melodrama instead of the subtle delivery that makes the Weepies' stories work. There's a lushness to Steve and Deb's arrangements that finds them working as easily in chamber pop as they do folk. There's a tender warmth to Steve Tannen's voice that most male vocalists rarely embrace. And even though Steve's hair is graying now, that rejuvenating texture and range in his voice isn't gone.
Listen to Happiness
. Listen to Say I Am You
. Listen to Hideaway
and this year's Sirens
. The Weepies haven't made a bad record. But when you bring up the defining folk acts of the last ten years, they're hardly brought up. You talk about the Mountain Goats or Tallest Man on Earth or Laura Marling. But you rarely hear the Weepies, and it's high time that changes.