Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brett Allen at Mr. & Mrs. T and Rachael Ray's Feedback Festival
It's very important to illustrate precisely how and where this Freelance Whales session happened. So we, along with thousands of other people in various stages of the unshaven, were in Austin, Texas, about a month ago for the famous South By Southwest festival that's like a groundswell of oddity and a bottomless caldron of parties and performances. This was the Saturday, at the very far end of the week of chaos and the Freelance Whales had already performed countless times, like so many of their peers. It was around noontime and the day had begun auspiciously, with pounding and drenching thunderstorms. We were asked, months and months prior to this day to assist in helping to curate and be a part of television chef Rachael Ray's festival party. We believed it to be so strange that it would work out alright. And it did, for the most part, though the day's beginnings were horrid and scary. With the crazy rains beating down on the city, we arrived to find Peter Wolf Crier's Peter Pisano and Brian Moen drinking thermoses of coffee at 9 am near the load-in area of Stubbs BBQ, where the party was to be held. The grounds were beyond soggy, but we were luckily indoors, to set up in the restaurant area of the club. When we arrived, an hour and a half before Peter Wolf Crier was to play, the room was filled from front to back with tables and chairs and we had no way of knowing what in the hell was going on. We took matters into our own hands and began taking the tables and chairs out to the sidewalk to begin setting up an afternoon that would feature, for the first time ever, Daytrotter sessions taped (this day with Peter Wolf Crier, Freelance Whales, Pearly Gate Music and Fang Island) live before a small audience chosen by lottery and reservation. The audience included Metallica's manager Cliff Bernstein, Rachael Ray, members of Ra Ra Riot, Justin Townes Earle, Daytrotter diehards, a bunch of people from or formerly from Iowa and very nearly Danger Mouse and James Mercer, who attempted to but were somehow thwarted from entering through the side doors. With no soundproofing to keep any of the sound from the other bands playing the Stubbs stages out of our space, we were forced to roll with it, minding that this was the best that could be done with the circumstances and for anyone who was there that afternoon to witness Freelance Whales perform these four songs from their incredible debut album, "Weathervanes," as their label mates Local Natives were playing their set on an indoor stage not more than 40 feet away, it's going to be hard to believe these songs.
It was obvious, in this room, where the BBQ and the coleslaw are served at all other times of the venue's operation, even with two other bands blaring through the open doors and walls, that Freelance Whales (Judah Dadone, Kevin Read, Doris Cellar, Jacob Hyman and Chuck Criss) were magical. They gathered around a small handful of microphones - a minimal set-up for an acoustic set unlike any they'd ever performed before. It fought the elements and battled with relative sanctity to produce a four-song set that had all in attendance twice as silent as they had been planning on being coming into the room. They couldn't bear not hearing what the band from Queens, N.Y., was doing. Much of it cut through, but the majority of it will be heard by those in attendance for the first time on these recordings, restored to how the four young men and one young woman were actually sounding as they pointed themselves and their instruments hopefully at those few microphones. Dadone's intricate stories, more like those childhood-oriented memoirs that Arcade Fire's Win Butler put on "Funeral," and the group's gooey and outrageously well put together arrangements and five-part harmonies, shine through without evidence of hardship. They were easily able to - even through a messy barrage of bleeding sound and some nerves - convey where a line like, "Don't fix my smile/Life is long enough/We will put this flesh into the ground again," from the excellent song "Generator Second Floor" could have come from. It came from a special place, indeed, and nothing was to get between the message and the appreciation.
Freelance Whales Official Site
Rachael Ray's Feedback Festival Site