“Good evening everybody, we are Bombadil from Durham, North Carolina. Thank you for being here.”
Moments after walking across World Café’s upstairs stage last Saturday night (05-02-15) the members of Bombadil embarked upon a gleaming set brightened by traces of symphonic, baroque pop. As a wall of heavy red theater curtains lay still behind them, singer/keyboardist and occasional bassist, Daniel Michalak, drummer James Phillips and guitarist Nick Vandenberg quietly generated an atmosphere of contemplation and movement. Understated, charming and direct, the band infused rhythmic melodies with intricate flourishes of the colorful and surreal. And as those same gentle verses bled into strident choruses, Bombadil ignited the affections of a Philadelphia audience that sat in rapt attention, devouring the notes as they filled the intimate space.
Standing amidst a cascade of soft yellow light, the group routinely changed instruments and chatted with the crowd, coolly capturing the winsome moods of their studio albums. Gradually, the songs themselves became a subtle narration to the nighttime scene occurring outside the wall of windows to their right, absorbing the venue’s astral lights as they reflected the silhouetted figures of the band. Effectively sealed-off from a sea of wordless activity and motion, the room itself took on an atmosphere that resembled the rarefied air of an aquarium. Highly visual songs like “Trip Out West,” only reinforced that notion, as “Picasso colors” formed brushstrokes of light against the muted cityscape.
Ever since their 2008 full-length debut, A Buzz, a Buzz, Bombadil has consistently composed imaginative songs of invention and whimsy. Subsequent releases, including Tarpits and Canyonlands, All That the Rain Promises, Metrics of Affection and Hold On have only expanded on those components, countering serene melodies with the ocular storytelling of three shrewd observationalists. And though original member Stuart Robinson left the group shortly after the release of Hold On, Michalak and Phillips have continued performing, lavishing their compositions with genuine warmth and character. Early on, a performance of “Born at 5:00” captured those same elements, chronicling a man’s lifespan with their signature blend of affection and humor. And though the song’s first moments explore how the character “sat through school, but ran through the night,” later verses convey the nagging worry and mournful spirit he acquired as he approached middle age. When they sang, how “he cheated death at 35, asleep at the wheel swerved just in time/ his heart grew cold and he lost touch, the job was boring and the marriage was tough,” a lifetime of diminished expectations and severe self-doubt and pity were suddenly understood, thoroughly brought to life in only thirty words.
“I should mention we are touring in support of a brand new record, it’s called Hold On. We’d like to play the very first song on that record, it’s called “Coughing on the F Train.”
Moments after introducing their next song, Phillips took his wooden drum sticks and smashed them against the other. As the weighted, splintered sound struck the room’s back wall and reverberated throughout the venue, a seated Michalak bent his head to his microphone and placed his fingers on stark white piano keys. As he began to sing, the composition’s exuberant melody gradually collided with lyrics of examination, deliberation and reflection. Portraying the type of faint nostalgia that can compel someone to move their feet across the pavement, seeking out their past at the risk of their pride, “Coughing on the F Train,” finds our narrator regretting his return to a former love even as he travels to her apartment. Sharing an inclination towards the bittersweet, the band’s later performance of “Marriage” took a slower, soulful melody and expanded on shared themes of apprehension, heartache and regret.
“Just two names on a court certificate, twenty years and the same kiss
I thought you knew, I thought you knew, this was marriage.”
Summoning the weary dual voice of a couple unsure if their significant other expected more, Michalak performed “Marriage” alone, accompanying himself on a keyboard marked with large yellow letters that spelled out “B O M B A D I L.” As his vocal filled the room, a stillness seemed to sweep through the audience, instantly halting any activity that wasn’t occurring on the venue’s tiny stage. As melancholy verses of speculation and unrest revealed themselves, the song itself seemed to grow bigger, taking on a meaning that far outweighed the problems between the song’s fictional couple. When he asked, “Would you still buy me dinner, after the two-hundredth time I dropped my silver fork?” the gentle chime of silverware could be heard coming from a nearby table, inadvertently furnishing the song with a dreamy, cinematic appeal. And by delivering a career spanning set of striking harmony and earnest storytelling, Bombadil continually strengthened that atmosphere, instilling a joy and meaning in every note they played.
Article: Caitlin Phillips