Sea Wolf & Chase Hamblin
Feb 20 at 8
2706 White Oak Dr.
On Thursday night, Fitzgerald's hosts an intimate acoustic evening with L.A. singer-songwriter Alex Brown Church. Since 2007 Brown has been creating music as Sea Wolf, a moniker taken from the title of Jack London’s 1904 maritime adventure novel. Brown inhabits mournful solitude with a voice eerily similar to that of Ian McCulloch, the singer of influential British new-wave band Echo and the Bunnymen. In each song, he sets a scene that allows him to revisit an emotion that haunts him. In "Priscilla" and "Kasper" he bases the songs on specific people, whereas in "Saint Catherine St" the narrator remembers a specific moment from his childhood in an attempt to reconnect with his dead father.
Brown studied film at NYU, which may help explain the cinematic feeling of these songs—they reverberate sonically and emotionally, portraying hidden vastness and profound weight. Perhaps this is the feeling that gave Sea Wolf’s most recent album, 2012's Old World Romance, its name and evocative album cover: in the world before instant connection and constant availability, exploration meant finding oneself lost at sea and searching for a path forward—or just as often, a path home. That world may be gone from our actual lives, but it still exists in the space between people, and between each person and his memories. The stark intimacy of the narrator's exhortations to the characters in his memories shows the resolution and seriousness of his journey toward himself.
The moments Brown chooses to sing about are both mundane and romantic. "Blue Stockings" portrays a quiet moment between a couple who've been together long enough to lose sight of everything but their tensions and flaws. On the elegant "Wicked Blood" from 2009's White Water, White Bloom, furtive moments of youthful passion turn into "an ember in the rafters" that warms and comforts even as it threatens the couple. Brown finds poetry in ordinary events, and in so doing imbues them with the clarity of observation.
From all reports, Brown puts on a rather staid show, without much banter between songs to flesh out the experience. Fortunately, these are powerfully personal songs, and his faithful live renditions are stirring. A solo acoustic show like this one also offers a singer uncommon freedom—alone on stage, there are no bandmates to obstruct the connection between singer and listener. The intimacy of his songs makes this kind of quiet performance a unique opportunity for Brown to speak directly to the audience.
Opener Chase Hamblin is a perfect foil for Brown's sojourner—having spent much of his life traveling the world before arriving in Houston, Hamblin knows a thing or two about searching for a path forward. On his most recent album, last year's VAUdeVILLE, Hamblin and his band The Roustabouts meander through stylistic shifts, from the maudlin barroom piano of the lost-love lament "One More Hour" to the jaunty walking bass in "Can You See The Beast?", a warning call against society's imminent destruction at our own hands. "I've Got A Brain" deploys punchy brass to support its simple, childlike sentiments. In each compact song Hamblin communicates a gentle humanity matched by the lightness of his slightly lisped lyrical delivery. It's an eminently accessible record that calls to mind the stage shows of its namesake era, and was one of the most enjoyable albums released by a Houston artist last year.
It’s a treat to see Hamblin, clad in stylish vintage-inspired outfits, perform these songs. The optimistic vigor of his songwriting and performance style ensure that even in a live setting, where muddy sound and disrespectful crowds can often obscure the music's message, we can follow what Chase has to tell us. The message is: the path forward may be confusing and dark, but we're in this together. Finding your way is often frightening, but the tools for the job are as easy to carry as his irresistible tunes.
Though Brown hails from California and Hamblin calls Houston home, these two singers feel as though they're two sides of a single experience. Striking a balance between reflection and action is a skill that takes a lifetime to master, but with the aid of songwriters like these we get a small taste of the rewards such a balance offers.