To think I almost didn’t go to this show. My reason: Carissa’s Wierd’s final show, in November of 2003 at the Crocodile Cafe, was a magical moment for me, one of those bittersweet “I was there” moments that I knew couldn’t be topped. It both finally validated a band that I knew was one of the best in Seattle at the time (or ever) — it was their first sold-out show as a headliner — and marked the unfair end of creative output from such a great band. We all know how the band members went on to do other great things through Grand Archives, Band of Horses, and the solo careers of Jenn Ghetto (S) and Sera Cahoone, but at that moment Carissa’s Wierd’s mournful music actually felt like mourning. And survivors of the dead don’t particularly like walking the same emotional path twice, so you can see why I wouldn’t want to go to the second wake nearly seven years later. Added to that, Aveo, a sort of dream-pop meets post-rock trio who reminded listeners of a shoegazery version of The Smiths had rematerialized six years after their own dissolution for this night. The band had been tourmates and friends of Carissa’s Wierd for the past decade, so despite their sonic differences, the pairing made sense. Two reunions in one night. I really couldn’t miss it, could I? Fortunately, I’m not that much of an idiot.
The diehards among us were front and center for Aveo. Half of the crowd was waiting it out for Carissa’s Wierd, but pushing up against them were those of us who remembered Aveo’s lush pop charms and pumped our fists to each song we recognized. Sure, singer/guitarist William Wilson sounded pretty rough. Whatever he’d been doing in his adopted home of Sweden over the last six years, it didn’t appear to involve singing. Yet we fans barely registered when he went severely out of tune, especially on the slower songs. Bassist Mike Hudson and drummer Jeff MacIsaac continually held it down, though. MacIsaac, in particular, was on fire. But you had to give Wilson props. He came out in his Hives-inspired white jacket and pants (Sweden has apparently has its hold on him) and wailed, flailed and jumped around without missing a beat. While he humbly acknowledged his own shortcomings in response to the audience’s unflagging approval — “You’re too kind. We’re a bit rusty” — Wilson never let up, and by the time the band reached the set climax of their previous hits “To The End Of This Dull Continent” and “Bridge to the Northern Lights,” we were prepared to forgive them anything.
The moment Carissa’s Wierd began their set, the entire audience was transported in time. There was a hushed reverence among the packed house that seemed far more serious than even during their farewell show in 2003. As they struck the opening lines of “Low Budget Slow Motion Soundtrack Song from the Leaving Scene” (also the first song on their new retrospective, They’ll Only Miss You When You Leave: Songs 1996-2003, out this week on Hardly Art), they seemed to have never been gone, as if the exact same longing sound that you had been longing for had never been lost. That emotional tension was clear as songwriters Mat Brook and Jenn Ghetto summed up exactly what we had been thinking about them: “How long will you be gone / How soon till you’ll come home / Where is your sweetheart”? Yes, it’s hard not to read into the lyrics of a band that wrote so often about loss and longing, especially when you think you’ve lost and longed for them, but that opening song set the tone for the night: the band’s very presence onstage was both an answer to that question (nearly seven years, apparently) and a reiteration of it, as we all knew that this reunion would be a fleeting, one time event.
Throughout the course of the night, the band proceeded to play every song on the new retrospective, which itself covers the few albums and collections of rarities that were released over Carissa’s Wierd’s initial seven years. Fans whooped to hear favorites like “All Apologies and Smiles, Yours Truly, Ugly Valentine” (You Should Be at Home Here) and “Drunk With the Only Saints I Know” (Ugly But Honest). While They’ll Only Miss You… does a great job capturing some of the band’s best songs live, it can’t be faulted for not covering everything. A few favorites are sure to be missed — no “Heather Rhodes,” for instance, or “Blankets Stare.” Fortunately, those two were added to the set list, along with “Alphabet on the Manhole” and a brand new song, which Mat prefaced by saying, “If you don’t recognize it, that’s for a reason.” Whether this was a truly new song or a lost outtake, with lyrics like “you’ve been gone so long / you can never go home again,” it was the perfect fit into the CW oeuvre.
Jenn and Mat’s voices were spot on and, as they ever did, barely rose above the level of the other instruments. Sarah Standard’s violin, as essential to CW’s sound as the vocals, would have made you weep openly if you weren’t so happy to hear it again. Jeff Hellis is a terrific keyboard player, helping to create the songs’ lush textures, but it’s the moments when he busts out the accordion, as on “The Color That Your Eyes Changed With The Color Of Your Hair,” that are the most thrilling. And Sera Cahoone? I’d nearly forgotten how great of a drummer she is now that she’s moved from behind the kit on her own solo project. The missteps were few and might not have been noticed had the band not so quick to point them out: after a bit of a skiffle version of “So You Want to Be a Superhero,” Jenn commented that the song should have sounded differently. I can’t imagine who would care.
In all, the night was an outstanding success. Fans who have grown to love Carissa’s Wierd in the time after they had disbanded were given a new chance to hear them live. In fact, two young guys at the front of the stage flew all the way from Philadelphia specifically for the show! Of course, certain fans will no doubt have wished for certain other songs to played, and some occasional listeners might find some of the set “too quiet” or “sleepy.” But despite whatever expectations those of us had built up over the years while waiting for this reunion, this emotive show was long overdue validation for a band that everyone recognized was far better than the recognition they received. Echoing what an audience member said after just three songs during Carissa’s Wierd’s 2003 farewell show, “When’s your [next] reunion gig?” We’ll just keep waiting.