May 2, 2012

The Talk Music of Listener


When Dan Smith of the band Listener speaks, you listen.

Even when he's not speak-singing above the controlled cacaphony of his mellifluous three-piece band, the rhythm of his words, the growl in his gut, and the earnestness of his emotions forces you to listen.

Due to a few technical mishaps at Lola's Saloon in Fort Worth, where I recently saw Listener perform, Dan spoke more than I'd guess he usually does at a show. But, even though he was killing time as the sound tech replaced cables, the roomful of 50 hung on his words, likely because he was downright hilarious from the very beginning.

"We're glad you're alive . . . and not in prison. No one's died on this tour today, so it's been a good day." There's no arguing against that kind of logic, and it does make you grateful that you are in fact alive and you are in fact not in prison. And that no one in the band has died.

In between songs, Smith would either tell a terribly awesome joke in the vein of Steven Wright or Mitch Hedberg, or ask for questions from the audience.

"What influences you?"

Although this wasn't my question, I would have asked it in an interview.

"All of life."

He didn't say it tersely or dismissively. It was an honest answer, and if you've listened to their last album, Wooden Heart, at all, you know he means it.

"Who do you listen to?"

"Anything that's honest."

I loved this answer. He paused for a few seconds, then added that he's currently listening to a lot of Bill Mallonnee, formerly with Vigilantes of Love. Again, if you're at all familiar with Listener's sound, this is a legitimate question.

Equal parts rapid-fire poetry, speak-singing, and tumultuous, swelling instrumentals, Listener could be a specific version of Bob Dylan fronting Explosions in the Sky. For some, their sound could be grating. For others, their sound is astounding. Aside from seeing Listener live in concert, the best introduction to their "talk music" is their music video for "Wooden Heart." If you're unfamiliar with the band, watch that first, then that'll tell you whether or not you're interested in the next question.

"When does your next album come out?"

This was the one question I did ask.

"In June. It's called Time is a Machine, if you can wrap your mind around that."

Having fallen into Wooden Heart's lyrical depths, I wasn't sure that I could, but I can't wait for the opportunity to try.

"We're going to play another song now, because you're still here. This one's called 'Falling in Love with Glaciers.' It's about the turtle in The Neverending Story. All of our songs off Wooden Heart are about characters from that movie."

What the what? This band can do no wrong in my book. I wasn't sure whether he was playing with the audience or not, but the thought of such inspiration for the entire album has me poring through Wooden Heart's lyrics for Falcor's presence.

Dan and the two Chris's (Nelson on guitar, Rochelle on drums) played roughly 10 songs in a tragically short hour-long set, a few of which were new songs from their forthcoming album. While they only have a handful of shows left in their Southwest Minotour before playing the Cornerstone Music Festival and the Vans Warped Tour, Listener tours extensively, and they're well worth driving an hour or more (as I did) to see them live.

Toward the end of the show, Dan shared that he was from Atlanta, but was preparing to move to Denver.

From near the bar, a boisterous patron shouted, "Don't move to Denver! Denver sucks!"

To which Dan, without hesitation and with utter earnestness, replied, "I wish we could have talked earlier."

Funny thing is, Dan had been talking the whole night. The guy at the bar just hadn't been listening.

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