Local Current Blog

Review: The Staves wield harmony and grace at the Cedar

Emily, Camilla, and Jessica Stavely-Taylor at the Cedar Cultural Center. All photos by Nate Ryan / MPR.

During the past few years, I’ve had some key friendship moments on a crowded dance floor. Music is great that way — it gives people something to revel in, tugging the same glint out of everyone’s eye. On the other hand, I’ve spent some of my most introspective moments on those same dance floors, and I’ve learned that music can be a sacred thing to experience on one’s own. It works both ways; we go to some shows to see friends, and we go to some shows to see ourselves.

I went for the second reason to the Staves’s show on Friday night, and everything delivered. The reverent audience gave each other room to breathe. Trevor Sensor opened the show with a feverish, evocative set. Headliners the Staves quieted the Cedar Cultural Center with their slow-build psalms.

I first got to know sisters Camilla, Jessica, and Emily Stavely-Taylor during their invigorating performance at last year’s Eaux Claires Festival, and I previewed their new EP, Sleeping In A Car, last month. Their harmonies, both in concert and on CD, have made my jaw drop.

On Friday, they did it again; wielding honest lyrics and clear voices, the band impressed fans for over an hour. They played all three tracks off Sleeping In A Car (including “Outlaw,” the EP opener and my favorite of their songs), several from 2015’s If I Was, and a few from 2012’s Dead & Born & Grown. An opening a capella track, “Hopeless,” set the stage for a strong vocal showcase.

The Staves call Watford, England home, but as Jessica put it, “We’ve been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time around these parts.” They’ve recorded with Justin Vernon at his April Base studio in Wis.; they also tour with Bon Iver as backing vocalists. Their drummer, Dave Power, plays with Eau Claire band Aero Flynn.

The Eau Claire/Eaux Claires communities showed up to support the Staves at the Cedar — Vernon and members of Aero Flynn hung out through the night, staying mostly incognito. Before the set, Cedar staff asked who of the audience went to Eaux Claires last year, and about a third of the crowd raised their hands. Eaux Claires 2016 also got a shout-out; the Staves, Bon Iver, and dozens of other bands will perform.

Almost more than anything, I admire the Staves’s professional and musical composure; they pushed through typical first-night-of-tour obstacles with grace in Minneapolis. Camilla said sorry once during a prolonged pause, but a smiling, firm Emily told her, “Don’t apologize.” The audience whooped. Before that, someone in the crowd yelled, “Sisters!” Camilla raised her eyebrow and returned, “What else do you see?”

For all the audience banter, though, I’ve never felt so calm at a concert. During “Facing West,” I stole away to the concession counter and ordered a cup of coffee. Then, I stood in the back, sipping from my ceramic mug, and I let the music swallow me.

One thing’s for certain: It’s not just any band who can steady your pulse, dredge up emotions, and give you chills even in a warm room. But together, as we saw on Friday night, the Stavely-Taylors can do that. Just like many in the Cedar audience, I can’t wait until Eaux Claires.

Opener Trevor Sensor played a gripping, Dylan-esque set speckled with many a frenzied “whoo!” His energy is almost delirious — full of relish and emotion. When a fan rolled the “r” sound in a cheer, Sensor pumped his fist and roared, “Yes! Very good!”

I was intrigued by the lyrics Sensor wrote, especially the ones with religious signifiers (“Judas Said To Be A Man,” “Texas Girls & Jesus Christ,” and his self-described “blasphemous […] but that’s okay” song, “The Vatican”). I looked him up once I got home. It turns out he’s a fantastic prose writer, capturing tour diaries and philosophical musings at Medium. I thought one phrase from a recent essay said it all: “I continue on to write my songs, prose, and whatever else I fancy  —  screaming into the void and pushing my boulder up the mountain like Sisyphus and everyone else — except instead of sobbing, I laugh maniacally every time my boulder tumbles back down.”

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