New England troupe The Dear Hunter is known for its energetic music, as it often blends a wide array of styles, including folk, rock, pop, and electronic, with prog tinges, moving orchestration, and intricate dynamic shifts. You can imagine, then, how exciting it would be to see them pull out all the stops live. This past Saturday, September 7th, they did just that when they performed at Philly’s beloved Union Transfer. With a string quartet on hand and an enjoyable opening act, the boys held the crowd in the palm of their hands.
Opener Laura Stevenson, whose latest album, ‘Wheel,’ was released last April, recalled past singer-songwriters like Sheryl Crow and Joni Mitchell with her modest yet sweet charisma and folk/rock aesthetic. Her voice was charming—if also a bit piercing—and her band was in top form. They used a variety of interesting instruments, including accordion and xylophone, in addition to the standard arsenal to craft pieces that shared a trait or two with Fleet Foxes and Of Monsters and Men. In-between songs, she would joke about her songwriting (“everything I write is sad”) and short hair, which she attributed to a quarter-life crisis. Overall, they conveyed a level of humility and confidence that definitely made up for the sense of familiarity.
About a half an hour later, the lights dimmed and the string quartet took to the stage. After a few seconds of intrigue and silence, they played a reworked version of “Battesimo Del Fuoco” as the band came out and gestured gratitude. The audience went wild. Rather than continue with something else from ‘Act I’ (like “City Escape,” for example), they did “Bring You Down” from their latest opus, ‘Migrant.’ Afterward, “The Thief” was re-imagined slightly to include more effects and piano accompaniment. It lead right into “Mustard Gas.”
‘The Color Spectrum’ also received attention via “Lillian” and “Mr. Malum” (among other tracks), as did ‘Act II’ via “The Procession” and “Dear Ms. Leading.” Actually, mastermind Casey Crescenzo admitted that the group rarely plays the latter song live, to which someone yelled “Well, good luck!” It was very funny. As for the string quartet, they weren’t as audible as they could’ve been during certain songs, but they definitely gave several pieces, such as “Shame,” “Home,” “What it Means to be Alone,” “This Vicious Place,” and especially “Things that Hide Away,” an extra boost.
Interestingly, they didn’t really do an encore; in fact, only Crescenzo and the string quartet came back after the initial concert was done. He announced that he dislikes standard encores because they feel clichéd and expected (which is true) and then played a moving version of “The Love,” adding that it was one of his most personal songs. Although it wasn’t as lengthy or lively as encores usually are, it was definitely more special and intimate than most.
Throughout the performance, alternating colored lights added some visual spectacle, and it was interesting to note how Crescenzo resembled Brian Wilson (in terms of presence, not size) circa 1970 as he sat at his keyboard, directing his musicians. As usual, the band sparred a bit with the audience, as many jokes and harmless insults were thrown back and forth. The best element, however, was the way the group played subtle instrumental pieces (usually just some feedback, a few notes, and light percussion) in-between songs. It definitely made the set feel more unified and conceptual. All in all, The Dear Hunter blew everyone away, and I can’t wait to see them do it again.
You can find the entire setlist below.
1. Battesimo Del Fuoco
2. Bring You Down
3. The Procession
4. The Thief
5. Mustard Gas
8. Let Go
10. What It Means to be Alone
11. This Vicious Place
12. Things That Hide Away
13. Mr. Malum
14. Dear Ms. Leading
18. Where the Road Parts