By Kinsey Heath
The good ole Canadian folks that comprise of the band Great Lake Swimmers, have traveled many weary miles and swam thru countless bodies of waters and have joined us at one of Seattle's staple venues, Chop Suey. The five-piece Toronto-based band, opens with “Something Like A Storm”, the first track off of their newest release Forest of Arms. Each band member picks up an egg shaker and begins to create rhythm for the song. I think to myself “Oh this is going to be fun!” The banjo accompanying the violin brings you back to the old-time, Appalachian bluegrass sound. Great Lake Swimmers are primarily a string band that consists of a violin, rhythm guitar, upright bass, lead guitar, banjo, and drums.
Tony Dekker, the lead man of Great Lake Swimmers, has a quiet nature about him which suits the image of the band. He gives a contemplative performance but it's neither compelling nor arousing and I’m left in need of a resolve. There are beautiful moments in the show that include violinist Miranda Mulholland sweeping the show with her majestic musicianship. Dekker is mild-tempered and gives a few endearing smiles out to the audience every so often. The members as a whole are excellent musicians and demonstrate that fairly well during their performance. However, I'm confused by the direction they are going towards: it seems that they are trying to infuse pop and bluegrass together, which doesn’t necessarily work. The drums are too prevalent throughout each track and creates a void between the strings. By adding a pop edge to their music, it eliminates the intimacy of their songs.
Great Lake Swimmers have the potential to be a multidimensional band, but there is an element that is severely lacking: they don’t take risks. Dekker doesn’t play around with vocal range, and at times, the bass and the lead guitar are playing the melody along with the rhythm guitar. I’m given a fork and knife but nothing to consume.
During their encore, the band walks into the the audience and stands in a circle and asks us to join in with a sing-a-long. For me, this was the most gripping part of the show. It seems personal, and the exploration for their lost musical direction was found while delving back into their bluegrass roots. No drums, subtle instrumentals, and foot stopping is what arouses the audience to join in.
Competing with the likes of Sufjan Stevens, whom beautifully constructs masterpieces that leave you feeling disrobed and powerless, Great Lake Swimmers' sound seems aged and without a foundation. Overall, their performance is undivided and well structured, yet it didn’t move oceans in me and I didn’t feel a sense of belonging or synchronization with the music.
However, each concert goers experience is subjective. The band has 62,000 followers on Facebook and the song “Your Rocky Spine” has over three million plays on Spotify. Great Lake Swimmers have a steady fan base and their sound does appeal to a mass amount of people. But I cant help but feel that they have wandered off course and I’m left searching for the markings of a band that was once making solid ground.
One thing for certain is that the Great Lake Swimmers are not impostors. They are not a bunch of white, rich, twenty-something-year-old musicians who are new to the scene and trying to show case how cool they can be by strumming a few chords on the banjo. The Swimmers are advanced in their musicianship and they confront each song with tender-heartedness that is pure and intentional.