Live Review: Horse Feathers

by | Feb 1, 2011 | Concerts & Festivals, Reviews

The New Parish // Oakland, CA // December 17

Light rain on the streets of Oakland couldn’t put a damper on Horse Feathers’ cheerful mood. Being from Portland, where it rains virtually half of the year, a little bit of gloom actually works in favor of their music: this folk-pop string quartet welcomes the winter, finding inspiration in the cold and quiet months.

Frontman Justin Ringle possesses a soft and subtle croon made for intimate settings, like a living room with 20 close friends gathered around him at the fireplace. It isn’t naturally suited for the electronic manipulation of larger rock clubs; the venue’s sound system, then, tended to muddle his voice, rendering him hard to understand at times. Yet, the vocal melodies that Ringle crafts for each song are so intricate and graceful on their own; decipherable lyrics aren’t really necessary in a live setting.

And with the focus off of the words, it was easier to notice the nuances of the band’s talented string section, which consists of Nathan Crockett on violin and musical saw, Catherine Odell on cello, and Sam Cooper on a wide range of instruments – banjo, violin, drum set and piano – sometimes playing two at once. The band’s synergy shined onstage: Ringle’s hushed singing handed a lot of prominence and weight over to the strings, who returned the favor by enhancing their leader’s compositions without drowning him out.

The group performed a number of fan favorites that night, like “Curs in the Weeds,” “Belly of June” and “Working Poor,” and also invited special guest Scott McGee (from fellow Portland indie group Loch Lomond) to play clarinet on their latest title track, “Thistled Spring.” They closed the night with a haunting rendition of Nirvana’s “Drain You,” leaving the audience with more pleasant chills than any December storm could offer.