Hold Steady with Wintersleep
9 p.m. Friday
Republic, 828 S. Peters St., 528-8282; www.republicnola.com
Tickets $15 advance purchase, $18 at the door
Sometime after midnight on Saturday, Sept. 18, Wintersleep finished a gig in Aarau, Switzerland, its last stop on an extended tour through Western Europe. Forty-two hours later, the Halifax, Nova Scotia, band took the stage again — 4,200 miles away, in Richmond, Va.
The obvious question: Who offended the booking agent?
"It's crazy," says singer/guitarist Paul Murphy with a laugh, speaking from Germany two days before embarking on the globetrotting jaunt. "We play and fly out the next day. From [Washington, D.C.] we have to drive to Virginia. It's pretty nuts. ... The night before (Switzerland), we play in Hamburg. The drive the next day is like 10 hours."
The gauntlet is nothing new for the group, which took breakthrough third LP Welcome to the Night Sky on the road for more than 600 dates since its release in 2007, many in Europe. The current tour is the first in support of May follow-up New Inheritors (Tom Kotter). In the time between the two releases, Wintersleep seemed poised to follow Canadian rock archetypes Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade and Broken Social Scene, winning the 2008 Juno (Canada's Grammy) for Best New Group and opening shows for Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Pearl Jam.
But this new release, despite being by far the band's best work, breaks rank, abandoning for the most part the insistent, soaring choruses of previous releases in favor of more a cerebral, orchestral, intimate sound. Opener "Experience the Jewel" could be mid-period Neil Young strung out on strings, its impact coming in the rests between stabbing notes; "Terrible Man," with Murphy's pinched delivery riding driving guitars and drums, beats latter-day R.E.M. at its own game; and "Blood Collection," the LP's most lingering memory, blossoms from brooding mid-tempo filler to broken pop mantelpiece within the song's first minute.
"That one came together quickly," Murphy says, comparing studio sessions for New Inheritors and Night Sky with producer Tony Doogan (Belle and Sebastian, Mountain Goats), who helmed both records. "['Blood Collection'] was the first one we finished. It was initially intended to be a demo. It just ended up sounding perfect.
"[Night Sky] was done in Halifax, and it was our first time with Tony. We were a little bit green, a little bit nervous. Maybe not as ready as we should've been. Songs were being written during the recording: 'Oblivion' was a guitar part that we turned into a full song in a day."
For New Inheritors, the band flew to Montreal with a plan, leaving Doogan to work his sonic magic on songs such as the title track, which began life as a heavier cut and ended up the album's chiming levity, despite lyrics like "New inheritors of earth/ You overestimate your worth." "There wasn't an acoustic guitar part," Murphy says. "We ended up scrapping it and going with something more rootsy to bring out the vocal parts."
Playing New Orleans four days after touching down in Richmond, the band's jet lag may just be wearing off during the sound check at Republic. Murphy, whose last stop here was derailed by a breakdown in the French Quarter, hopes to see more of the city this time — before shipping out to Birmingham for a show the next day.
"I feel like I've experienced more on that new David Simon show, Treme," he says. "I feel like I know it a little more than I've actually experienced it. I really like The Wire. We're super hooked on that, and we watched all the episodes of Treme, too."