In the minutes leading up to a performance, the sight of a guitar nestled in it’s stand or a pair of chewed up drum sticks resting on a snare is more than enough to spark excitement. Last week in Philadelphia (04-02-17), that feeling of anticipation was alive and well, intensifying as it swept across the room at Johnny Brenda’s until everyone’s eyes had found the stage. Picking apart the image like a crime scene, some took photos while others concentrated on searching for clues, wondering if a familiar guitar strap or a custom inlay design on a fretboard could somehow predict the night’s setlist. But all of those questions were forgotten once the pre-show soundtrack stopped and the band appeared. Instantly, the venue’s colored lights had seemed to hit everything in its path, touching everything from the creases in their clothes to the hair on their heads. Although once the group started their set, Bombadil’s music would bring a whole new batch of colors to the stage.
Casting the friendly tone of a hometown show before they had even played a note, the Durham, North Carolina based musicians would joke frequently and express their gratitude often. “Alright, we’re going to play a lot of new songs tonight for you,” Daniel Michalak announced just moments after hoisting the strap on his acoustic guitar over his head and onto his shoulder. “This first song is called ‘Perfect.’” Taking the story of a couple wondering what their first house will be like and turning it into a meditation on relationships, the repeated lyric, ‘Don’t be afraid of the work to do,” reveals itself to be less of a comment on potential home renovations and more about the inevitability of tough times to come. Like so much of their music, it’s a charming, bittersweet and inherently hopeful window into everyday life, punctuated by melodic curveballs and pristine harmonies that feel big. Although even at their most booming, their music contains a lushness that may be their sound’s most vital component. It was there in everything from the lyrically biting “What’s So Great About You,” to the gentle vocals of “Long Life,” both from their newest album, Fences, to the escalating rhythms of older tracks like “So Many Ways To Die” and “Honeymoon.” But that lushness isn’t glossy or uninspiring. It’s thrilling. And just like the illustrated hot air balloon seen on the cover of their 2009 record, Tarpits and Cayonlands, once they take off, there’s no telling where they’ll go.
Stepping around handwritten set lists that practically glowed in the dark, Michalak, James Phillips, Stacy Harden and former member Bryan Rahija (accompanying the group on a select run of dates) swapped out instruments and moods often, casually shifting their shape to suit whatever came next. Throughout their set, the complexity and detail that’s woven into their arrangements so neatly was keenly felt, enriching songs like “No Snow in the Valley” and “I Could Make You So Happy” with a beauty that was entrancing. And while their albums possess the same hypnotic qualities, there remains something about seeing their songs performed live that adds even more color and shade to moving stories of heart and depth.
Article: Caitlin Phillips