Hey Marseilles 10/23/2012

In the first week of February 2011, I was working a shift at WBGU, the campus radio station at Bowling Green State University, getting acquainted with the studio setup in anticipation of the sports talk radio show that fellow faculty member Mike Butterworth and I would be debuting the following week.  During the shift, I drew a number of selections from the indie music offerings available in the studio.  Unfamiliar with most of the indie acts, I chose based on names and cover art, and I played recommendations from the CD cases.

One CD that caught my eye was To Travels & Trunks by a band called Hey Marseilles.  The CD recommended “Rio,” so I played it, and I really liked what I heard … so much so that I listened to other tracks from the CD off-air in the studio, and by the end of the week, I had blogged about the band here on Tunesmate and had purchased a digital copy of To Travels & Trunks.

Over the course of the last year and a half, I have had Hey Marseilles in regular rotation in my personal collection.  I also began to check their website regularly to see if they might ever make a live appearance close enough to me that I could attend.  Unfortunately for me, as an indie act out of Seattle, Hey Marseilles’ live shows mostly occurred in the Pacific Northwest.

Several weeks ago, though, I received word that Hey Marseilles would be on tour throughout the country.  I instantly scanned the locations, hoping for something that might be within a day’s drive on a day I could attend.  I saw shows in Columbus and Cincinnati and was already starting to formulate plans for one of those shows when the word “Toledo” popped out at me.  That’s right, Hey Marseilles was coming to Toledo, Ohio, and as soon as I recognized it as an evening I would be available, I knew I would be going.

That show happened the other day – on Tuesday, October 23 – at Frankie’s Inner City, just across the Maumee River from downtown Toledo.  Hey Marseilles played as the third act opening for California-based Sea Wolf, following Toledo-area acts Sea of Bears and Nathan Roberts.  My wife and I arrived during Sea of Bears’ performance, enjoyed Nathan Roberts, and would eventually stick around for Sea Wolf as well, but I was there for one main reason – to see Hey Marseilles …

And they did not disappoint at all.  Taking the stage at 11:00 p.m., the band played a set of seven tunes.  With an enthusiastic group of fans from Pittsburgh leading the way, the crowd responded energetically to the seven performers.  We clapped along with “Rio,” we swayed with rapt attention to “Elegy,” at one point a chant of “Hey Marseilles” briefly arose, and we were able to meet and talk with band members after their set, but perhaps the most poignant moment for me came during the second song Hey Marseilles played that night – “Cannonballs.”  The song begins with a subdued feel but then kicks up the intensity several notches halfway through.  During that pickup, as Matt Bishop sang, “These days are not fast/Times will not last/So they say, but I’m having trouble believing,” I could be found with a broad smile, goose bumps, and a glaze in my eye.  This was live music in one of its finest capacities – expert performers playing multi-textured music to an engaged and attentive crowd.  For every bit of enjoyment I had gotten for more than a year and a half of listening to Hey Marseilles’ music at home and at work, this was so much more profound, so much more vibrant, and so much more transcendent.  To borrow from their line, I am still having trouble believing – believing how the experience could have been as wonderful as it was … and yet it was.

Hey Marseilles’ viola player Jacob Anderson later told me that the fans from Pittsburgh made T-shirts for the band based on “Cannonballs” (and you can see the shirt on Hey Marseilles’ Facebook page).  In other words, the song is inspiring … and so is Hey Marseilles, period.  Their lyrics are like storybook creations; their layers of sound are rich with nuance. They make me feel giddy and contemplative, aware and secure, all at the same time, comforted by a sense of humanity that so much artistic expression seeks to articulate.  It’s no wonder they’ve been named a favorite on NPR.

In that NPR piece, Cheryl Waters calls Hey Marseilles’ music “an adventure anyone should enjoy,” and I wholeheartedly and quite confidently agree.  Go to their website, to Amazon.com, or to some other outlet for music and buy To Travels & Trunks.  Listen to Tracks 3 and 4 – “Cannonballs” and “Rio” – and then cycle back through to the beginning and listen to all 13 tracks.  Then, go back online, pick up their two-song release Elegy, and look forward to the band’s full second album, which is due out in February.  And, in the meantime, check out their list of upcoming shows.  If they’re going to be nearby, go see them live (and stick around for Sea Wolf as well).  Or, if you can’t make a show on their current tour, keep your eye open for dates for this spring, when they’re planning to tour as the headlining act.  Tickets will be very reasonably priced, and the experience will be well worth it.  I’d say, “Thank me later,” but I don’t warrant the thanks here.  Those thanks all go to Hey Marseilles for letting us share in their brilliance.

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