November 26, 2014 by Brandon Taylor

It’s Friday night, and the Tractor Tavern’s band roster is two-thirds full of Seattle Living Room Show alumni.  Those alums are Seattle indie and Americana groups The Local Strangers and St. Paul de Vence – the latter of which is celebrating the evening with an eagerly-awaited album release. Both of these have played Living Room Shows before, but opening band Runaway Symphony is visiting from Moscow, Idaho.  The youthful five-piece hops onstage, and the show begins.

Currently promoting their debut full-length album Running South (2013), Runaway Symphony immediately asserts its indie pop-rock leanings with a choral harmony and echoing, reverbed guitar. Front man Daniel Botkin’s leather jacket and sleeked hair match the mainstream polish on alternatingly uplifting and heart-achey tracks, his hopeful voice pleading for answers from a wide landscape of glassy strings and bristling snares. Solid rhythms and theatric fills from drummer Jason Oliveira lend the Symphony hints of arena rock, while soothing harmonic vocal lines (at times from all five players at once) and mingled acoustic instrumentation keep one foot planted firmly in the indie camp. Each song is squeaky clean and very swayable – if a bit vulnerable to prediction – and the half-hour set is short but sweet.

Next up: The Local Strangers.  Seattle-based, the Strangers deal most often in alt-country tunes that seem right at home amidst the Tractor’s wood-grain walls and Americana décor. Matt Hart and Aubrey Zoli (the band’s core duo) have their full ensemble in tow tonight, and the resulting five musicians people the stage with friendly plaid shirtedness and a playful get-down attitude.

They wrangle audience attention with a few rowdy chords before laying gently into background music for a sultry vocal narrative by Audrey – the kind that the band habitually builds into a rambling two-step. They do; a stand-up bass, shuffling drum kit and bendy electric guitar backing lyric harmonies from Matt and Aubrey that characterize most of their music.

Songs like “Devil and a Stiff Drink” and “Crown”(a brand new number) whirl by, the backing band’s seemingly custom-fit licks evincing the group’s natural talent for western bar-room rock.  Seldom failing to get boots a-stomping with these numbers, The Local Strangers have equal aptitude for slower, soft-spoken tunes that hew much closer to indie and folk music.  In some of these Aubrey wields a tambourine, in others a mallet with which she pounds a lone tom drum on important downbeats (to great indie effect).  Lilting back and forth between these two worlds, the Strangers’ set goes off without a hitch.

The moment many have been waiting for arrives after a short break when St. Paul de Vence takes the stage.  Up front is guitarist and lead singer Ben Doerr. Since creating the band and recording a debut album that dominated KEXP’s playlist for weeks, Doerr has seen several members change and new ones join. Through it all he’s been writing his grandfather’s wartime memories into songs that he and his fellow players bring to life as rousing folk and Americana. Their highly anticipated new album is called Farther Than Light, and we’re about to hear it.

Doerr and Lydia Ramsey (the newest new member) launch into the vocal harmony of their first song, a sentimental piece rife with Ben’s guitar, Lydia’s banjo, and tasteful accordion, piano and drum backing.  Lydia immediately proves her voice a valuable asset to the band, but waits to really let loose on the banjo till “Mama,” a single off the new album that they play next.  After Doerr begins singing this soulful letter to home – seeming to forget his guitar even while picking a clean and gentle pattern – the band fills the room with an uplifting chorus topped by Lydia’s turbulent, almost Mumford-esque banjo riffs.

From confessional tell-alls (that feel like coming home to your own heart while dancing in the mirror) to verses the whole band sings acapella style, St. Paul’s performance explores the far reaches of their own sound and emotions.  The band expands on the first album’s vibe, enhancing their road-dusted, accordion and banjo-spiked tribute to the war of life with horns, new themes, and more intricately composed songs.  The heart-swelling effect is completed when they tromp through the whole bar in an impromptu vaudeville parade for their last number – cementing the ideas behind Farther Than Light into us all with a finale of unbridled joy.

Link to original article: http://www.seattlelivingroomshows.com/show-review-101114-st-paul-de-vence-cd-release-tractor-tavern-wthe-local-strangers-runaway-symphony/

© 2016 Bejamin Doerr. All Rights Reserved.