Erik Neave and Jared Beckman of Cedarwell took the altar as their stage at the Gates of Heaven synagogue as the sun set over Lake Mendota at James Madison Park on Monday, May 17th. The pair from Sheboygan, WI began with Neave on the piano accompanied with the harmonious vocals of Beckman as people filed into seating on the main floor and in the balcony. The two proved their musical range transitioning from the quieter, airy-vocal acoustic songs, which I had heard a few weeks ago at The Valley show in Eau Claire, to electric guitar and shouting harmonies. They ended their set and fulfilled the last of my every expectation with the hauntingly beautiful “Lake Mille Lacs as Singular Lover”, the repeating end refrain ringing out, “I could love you like that” from wall to holy wall.
Appleton’s Alex Schaaf, a.k.a. Yellow Ostrich played next. Starting his set with his more-popular songs, Schaaf looped simple drumbeats, guitar riffs and vocals to create an organic full-bodied self-accompaniment. During his first extremely catchy song, “Mary”, giggles were heard amongst the crowd as Schaaf sang out his cheeky confrontational lyrics about his friend on drugs. His graceful mastering of the loop and effects pedals, along with his innocent, boyish charm provided for a unique musical experience not usually seen with solo artists.
Next on the bill was local musician and friend, Austin Hays. The audience, sprawling onto the floor and to the back of the synagogue, swooned over his classical finger picking and emotion-laden lyrics. Hays’ quiet sitting set was accompanied half way through by Jon Rath on the melodica, upping the vibe factor as Rath moved through the crowd to take his place at the altar. Though it was my first time seeing Hays perform live, I heard that this performance was one of his best to date. Something about the crowd, and the ambience of the space definitely added to the escapism of the evening.
Finally Julian Lynch with a full band set up and quickly launched into an experimental set of off-record psych-pop. Julian played the absurd Electronic Wind Instrument and the bass clarinet. Vibes were strong during this unique jam-style set. Echo-y wind riffs created an otherworldly sound while traditional drumbeats kept tempo for the bass, piano and keyboard. Julian only played a couple of songs (if you can call them that) due to their duration and our broken 10pm curfew, but those that were patient enough to absorb the entire set left with the complete indie-religious experience.