death vessel [2009]

The Independent
San Francisco, CA
25 August 2009

Let’s get this out of the way from the very beginning: yes, everything you’ve heard is true. Joel Thibodeau sounds like a woman. Close your eyes. Open them. Close again. It’s really him.

I’d read quite a bit about Thibodeau before this night at The Independent, and it seems like each and every article mentioned the voice thing. They also talked about how enjoyable his brand of “neo-folk” music is, so I was looking forward to moving beyond the voice thing.

Unfortunately, once I did manage to move beyond this remarkable incongruity (the voice as well as the name), Death Vessel revealed itself to be an unremarkable, mellow, mildly-enjoyable folk band. Interesting instrumentation, yes. Stand up bass, violin, occasional banjo. I’m in. And yet, nothing seemed incredibly noteworthy or cohesive.

And so I returned, later that night, to the band’s recordings. Lo and behold, there was certainly more promise – moments of life and spark that I could not recall coming from the stage. Perhaps it’s just evidence of the band’s relatively short time playing together. Perhaps (more cynically) they’re just not a live band.

I sincerely hope that the voice thing did not play a part in my disappointment on this night. When it comes down to it, I actually enjoy Thibodeau’s voice quite a bit. My issue was more with the band’s performance (execution) of music that holds up on its own in recordings.

I have a feeling that, someday, Death Vessel will become a lot more than just the band with that guy who sings like a woman. I have a feeling that Thibodeau will soon learn how to bring his band together to put on a show that both entertains and inspires. I have a feeling.