Swimmers sink at Elixir show

The Great Lake Swimmers’ Tony Dekker serenades an unenthused audience at Elixir on Aug. 25.
The Great Lake Swimmers’ Tony Dekker serenades an unenthused audience at Elixir on Aug. 25.
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The opening bands did little to help the Swimmers set.
The opening bands did little to help the Swimmers set.
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Ryan Vanderhoof of Akron failed to impress the crowd.
Ryan Vanderhoof of Akron failed to impress the crowd.
Photo: 

Concert Review: Great Lake Swimmers @ the Elixir, Aug. 25

Like a mother disappointed in the child she loves, I have to admit that the Great Lake Swimmers show on August 25 at Elixir was not good. Though, if I had to lay blame anywhere for this night’s debacle—and as reviews go that’s pretty much the point—I would lay a substantial amount on the opening band, Akron.

It’s not so much that they were bad as a band. Rather, they had the greatest trouble being an opening band. Generally, opening bands don’t grace the stage for an hour and half, like Akron did. Their style was indefinable and eclectic. I suppose I would call it progressive if I were to slap a label on it at all, but really the best word for it is jarring.

At times there were scattered jagged harmonies with members of Akron wailing like banshees, and other times it was spatial and sprawling. I felt like I was listening to music written by wards of some yokel insane asylum. I didn’t know what to expect from song to song, and after about 45 minutes I began desperately searching for a gong or a giant hook to put an end to this Homeric set. Perhaps with a proportionately timed performance they could have been tolerable. But, the seemingly endless set just pissed me off and sent many people home early. However, as the diligent and somewhat masochistic journalist that I am, I stuck it out to the end. Though I did find myself huddled in a corner for a good 20 minutes rocking back and forth begging for the torture to end—and those that stuck around looked at me like I was the crazy one.

I don’t know if Great Lake Swimmers chose their opening band, but as with the Great Lake Swimmers pairing with Pelt in June, I’ve noticed the opening bands I’ve seen them play with sound radically different from them. These opening bands don’t prepare you for the hushed melodies singer/songwriter Tony Dekker self-consciously whispers into the microphone. The two settings are so incongruous that I couldn’t help but feel wronged in some way.

When Dekker finally came on stage around a quarter to one in the morning I was near ready to hit the hay right there in one of those questionable booths at the back of Elixir. The first band stripped me of my patience and wore me out to the point that hearing Dekker’s lullabies seemed to mock my inability to sleep. However, Dekker’s musical performance that night wasn’t bad. It is actually near impossible for his pristine voice and gentle strumming to be bad.

Dekker had a delicate way of taking the stage amongst the clutter and chaos the previous band had left in its wake. It was a shame that Dekker was left to pick up that mess, but unfortunately that was his lot. His presence was so meek he took to the microphone almost unnoticed and began his set with an echoic, simple song “To Leave it Behind” from his most recent album Bodies and Minds.

After he played his first tune, the rest of his band slinked in like shadows behind him to take their place for the rest of the show. Dekker was his same old self and, in a way, that was part of the trouble. It became increasingly clear that if you’ve heard Great Lake Swimmers perform once you’ve heard them a thousand times. His music never varies. It’s hardly even different from his CDs, which is both good and bad in a way. It proves that Dekker’s talent is genuine, but it also tends to get monotonous.

The problem with the night was mainly the lead-up to his set. Dekker seemed to sense the tension and distaste in the crowd. There is usually a subtle, warming shimmer to Dekker’s music—however, tonight that inexplicable lustre seemed lost. At one point, a fan cried out for the song “This is Not Like Home.” Dekker despondently replied, “No, it’s not.” After that long haul I needn’t say that I did not stick around to see if there were any encores. As soon as Dekker said “goodnight,” so did I.

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