The Mohawk fills up fast. Any visitor of Red River on a weekend night has spied the lines outside the joint for sold-out shows. A bearded dude in black denim, with long, shaggy hair and apparently no time for his job walks up and down, counting the people, barking about “another side door entrance,” with a promise that there is no line; tourists flit by asking what people are waiting for: “excuse me, is this the line for ______?”; cop sirens blare off a couple of blocks away, but no one notices. These are things happening every weekend on Red River after 8 PM. This past Saturday was no exception.
That specific Saturday night though, whether you were getting hit by anxiety or anticipation before the show, I’d like to imagine you were pretty grateful for the crowd. It was a cold night in Austin, but everyone packed in regardless. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that town favorites Why Bonnie were opening that night. Despite the slight sound hiccup early on, (a mic seemed left off and we missed maybe the first verse or so) the group was a perfect serve-up for the main act. Dreamy vocals, but the lyrics had a no-nonsense warning about them. Blair Howerton’s gauzy voice belies a sort of urgency, but it comes through in the music none the less. Yes, this is bedroom pop, but the sheets are starchy. These are those magic sheets that clean you as you sleep in them.
After Why Bonnie peaced, people packed in even more so. I made conversation with a guy who scooched in next to me. Someone spilled half a beer on us from above. Cigarette smoke drifted up and around the crowd. People shifted and shuffled and vied for viewing space. Bodies kept other bodies warm. When Snail Mail took the stage they were non-nonchalant, though the chilled crowd flipped out nonetheless. It was obvious that Lindsey Jordan, the singer and songwriter of Snail Mail, was royalty here tonight. She briefly commented on the cold, but I can’t imagine it hit her like it did us. Jordan is from Maryland, after all. It was probably brisk outside at best to her.
“I’m so tired of moving on,” Jordan sang, awash in stage light, “spending every weekend so far gone.” The group started with “Heat Wave,”one of the singles off their 2018 album Lush. It’s a painfully gorgeous song, and if Jordan is royalty on stage, she is a warrior queen. She employs her voice like a weapon, and it cuts you as she belts it, not least because of the sharp lyrics. Whether whispered or screamed, there is a haunting quality in Jordan’s singing. Her notes hit you hard and clear. This is a vocalist you need to see and hear live to appreciate fully; because as fantastic as Lush is, a studio recording can only convey so much power. Snail Mail has power to spare. They do best unleashed on a stage, and they certainly were unleashed that night in Austin.
Later on into the evening, Jordan announced they only had a couple of songs left. The band stayed for one and then departed, leaving just Jordan and her ax. She warned us that they would not give an encore. “I find them disingenuous,” Jordan said, tuning her guitar. Some crowd members groaned, but is she wrong? This is indicative of Snail Mail as a whole. They are a harsh kind of sincere, thankfully. She left us with “Stick,” a pleading, indie ballad that does just what the title suggests. It stays with you. It lingers on long after it’s over.
Since the arrival and subsequent appreciation of Lush, the band has drawn countless comparisons. And undoubtedly, like any group, they carry the musicians that influenced them into their songwriting. Personally, the blasé fuzz and rippling guitar riffs echoed Wilco at times for me. Who knows what comparisons bands find complimentary? I mean to say, there is a blessed tightness in this group that oftentimes eludes punk-rock-indie outfits. Is Snail Mail punk? I don’t know. Snail Mail is Snail Mail, and for that we should all be thankful.
Photos by Craig McGreggor.