Danielson Sets Sail
Chris Donaghey
Reviews Editor
June 26, 2006
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Rock Music Reviews

Danielson showcasing their talents (RMR/Chris Donaghey)

Sunday, June 11, 2006: A day that will live in infamy. That thought went through my head as I desperately attempted to find out exactly where the Harrison Center for the Arts was in Indianapolis. Thankfully, I had left to approach the area so that I would arrive half an hour before the concert was to begin. It was only fitting that once I found the area, housed alongside (and partly inside) a church, there was a sign up that told me that I had to wait for the doors to open. Surely, a wonderful start to the evening. I wasn’t about to lose hope, though! Over time, throngs of people of all ages started to huddle up in their tightly-knit social/family groups, patiently (or impatiently) awaiting the start to our evening.

When we were finally allowed inside, I was extremely pleased to see that the venue was essentially a basement with dim lights, a small coffee stand, and a makeshift stage full of plywood and randomly placed quilts. The scene was set for an intimate show. As the night progressed and the opening bands played their sets, I started to chomp at the bit. There seemed to be around 80-100 people in the area who were probably doing the same, assuming they weren’t there for the local talent.

Then, unassumingly and out of nowhere, a cast of five, dressed in peculiar-looking blue sailing-type garments, specific name patches, and hats, took the stage.

The subtle grandeur of Danielson was about to begin.

Excitedly, the crowd shifted in an amoeboid fashion ever-closer to the stage. Staking my position only a few feet away early on had been an exercise in planning. Daniel Smith – lead singer, guitarist, ringleader, captain – welcomed us all into their world with the opening strums of “Ship the Majestic Suffix.” I wasn’t sure about what was to be played on this tour, so I was extremely excited about the playing of newer material. Oh, how my excitement was justified. During the opening chorus of the opening song, the combined sounds of each band member coalesced to send a shockwave of aural elation through my entire body. That’s not even a metaphor. I felt a momentary release in pain that lasted for the entire remainder of the song. Music’s healing properties were in full display from the opening gambit.

As I regained full use of my senses, I took in the visual display. The outfits were cute, no doubt; the best part, though, is how each band member had a distinct persona which added to the experience. For example, Evan, the keyboard/organ master, looked like Jack Nicholson’s iconic Jack Torrance, which was particularly offbeat for a man who appeared to be a middle-aged man with bifocals. Immediately beside Daniel was Rachel, whose sterling smile never left her face, even while joyously sending her voice soaring to the buzzing lights of the church basement.

Now, back to the songs. The set list was heavily weighted toward songs off of the recent Danielson release Ships. Each member contributed to stirring live renditions of the album, making each song seem more essential than the last. “Bloodbook on the Half Shell” and “Kids Pushing Kids” were examples of how the live versions excelled even in comparison to the excellent LP. Inducing snap-alongs and clap-alongs from the crowd didn’t hurt. Everyone loves a rapport with the band that’s playing for them. I know I did. “Did I Step On Your Trumpet?,” the lead single from Ships and one of the catchiest songs of the year, was kicked off with a Socratic crowd conversation, during which tales of trumpets stolen and broken were exchanged. The laughter, from band, crew member, and audience, erupted in spurts from every corner of the venue. Passive and active fans alike were getting into the concert in ways I had never experienced. You would certainly not feel those types of intimacy at other rock concerts.

Throughout the remainder of the evening, the mics would crackle on and off on occasion, the monitors would be sketchy, and yet, the sound would still overwhelm me in the most bewitching sense. Since the album was created by a cast of thousands, the set was more raw and visceral, but the emotional highs were translated with surgical precision. By the time “Five Stars and Two Thumbs Up” played and the Danielson clan literally and figuratively thanked the audience, I wanted more. Encore! Encore! Thankfully, they came out for a final outburst, including “Cutest Li’L Dragon,” during which everyone who came joined in a joyous mantra of “The dragon ate the love, sweet love.” It may not mean much but as I jumped and danced around while the circuits were switched on and off on the above lights, I felt more a part of this concert experience than I ever had before. “Five Stars” and/or “Two Thumbs Up” just don’t do the Danielson live show justice. Concerts are made to be experienced; this is one of the very few to encompass you in the experience to send every party into the night better than the hours before.

[RMR]