Brooklyn duo Widowspeak rock Schubas

 

In the midst of the distance murmur of voices between patrons with drinks in hand, Schubas’ intimate venue soon turned into a night of ethereal, Western-inspired rock music with the Brooklyn duo known as Widowspeak. When lead singer Molly Hamilton and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas first take the stage with their touring band members, however, it isn’t when the stage lights turn on. Hamilton, Thomas and company quickly set up their instruments, then proceed to interact with the audience members there for them.

“Egotistical” is the last adjective to describe Widowspeak, both in terms of persona and musical style. As the band members drifted between groups of audience members before the show, the action gave a prelude for what was to come for the rest of the show.

Opening with song “Perennials,” which is also coincidentally the first track off of their latest album “Almanac” released Jan.22, the audience became entranced with the pulsating drums and echoing guitar riffs executed well live. Both Hamilton and Thomas appeared to be characters from a Western cowboy film, with Hamilton dressed in a black asymmetrical dress and boots, and Thomas with his long brown hair and beard.

The duo first gained buzz when they were featured artists at last year’s SXSW festival. After the release of their self-titled debut album in 2011, Widowspeak toured extensively, exposing more people to their nostalgia-twinged sound that encompasses ’50s pop ballads and ’70s psych rock influences. Hamilton’s signature haunting voice, Thomas’ spindly guitar lines and dark lyrical imagery is reminiscent of shoegaze ’90s indie rock band Mazzy Star. Yet Widowspeak continues to put their own spin on this sound, incorporating complex arrangements that add texture to melody and rhythm.

Widowspeak powered through 14 songs, showcasing that spectacle in performance doesn’t need to rely much on stage gimmicks, but rather authenticity in musicianship. Like a machine, the band members were synchronized in rhythm. During song “Gun Shy,” the audience swayed to the dream-like atmosphere created with Hamilton’s drifting voice and the incorporation of a winding electric guitar rift combined with acoustic guitar strumming.

Throughout the show, Hamilton and Thomas made eye contact with each other, seemingly working together in tandem onstage. The intensity of each song’s rhythm contrasted with Hamilton’s soft voice, especially with song “In the Pines.” As a slower moment during the duo’s set, “In the Pines” is lullaby-like, yet it’s rich with textural elements that allow one to imagine that they’re being taken away into the mystery of the woods.

 

Behind Widowspeak’s sweet, blissful sound, however, are personal moments of dread. Indirectly autobiographical, Hamilton sings about the uncertainty that hangs over her head. During song “Nightcrawlers,” Hamilton repeatedly sings “Too many people / you have to meet / where are you going / you can’t leave” in a chant-like manner. Then the song takes off to new heights towards the end as it speeds up and instruments produce clashing sounds that are heartbeat-raising. Thomas closes his eyes at this moment, feeling the song’s intensity in his veins.

Towards the end of their set, Widowspeak perform an ethereal cover of Chris Isaak’s ’90s hit song “Wicked Game,” in which it is easy to believe that they were the ones who wrote it themselves with all its heartache. As Hamilton’s sweet voice drifts, it is a tender moment during the night as though Hamilton is writing a letter to the audience. She then cracks a smile before the band breaks out into song “Thick As Thieves,” whose central focus relies upon a haunting keyboard rhythm acting as a type of dark nursery rhyme.

Song “Harsh Realm,” the song that many of Widowspeak’s fans first became familiar with, is pulsating and sensual. Hamilton gazes into the distance while singing the line “I’ll always think about you” over and over again, making audience members unable to take their eyes off of her captivating presence that demands attention in the most subtle ways.

Although “Harsh Realm” was supposed to be the last song of the band’s set, a pivotal moment of the night came when Hamilton took the stage by herself to perform “Limbs.” With only an electric guitar in tow, Hamilton created a heartfelt moment, with her pitch-perfect voice crooning “I did what he said / went underwater instead / everything looks the same” repeatedly against subtle electric guitar melody.

When Hamilton looks into the crowd, a sense of yearning comes to mind as she stands alone onstage. Yet she’s not alone – she’s surrounded by people who can resonate with Widowspeak’s songs, which happen to be hauntingly human. Widowspeak’s world, through their music, goes beyond the confines of an intimate venue and into those haunting thoughts we all encounter deep inside our minds.