by Laura Wasson
It isn’t often I have much reason to ruminate on the finer points of poetry and the lost art of songwriting, but Song Preservation Society’s Tuesday night show at Union Pool gave me pause. At a time when sloppy porn-pop and barely comprehensible dubstep rule the airwaves, it was somewhat shocking to hear beautiful, striped-down music that requires a working brain and a beating heart to appreciate.
The L.A.-based trio comprises Trevor Bahnson, Ethan Glazer, and Daniel Wright—guitarists and exquisite singers whose voices seem tailor-made for angelic harmonies. Comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel, as well as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, are inevitable, but there is a quiet levity and romanticism that distinguishes SPS from their lyrically gifted forefathers.
The crowd was unfortunately small, but I suppose that is to be expected on a unseasonably chilly and damp New York evening, even in Williamsburg. Happily, though, the audience was mostly friends of the band, which added a jovial spirit to the set, even during the most somber interludes. SPS opened with the closing number off Ready Room, their 2012 EP. Stripped of the ebullient orchestration and whistling featured on the album, “You Can’t Stop Me From Tryin’” gained a new urgency and put the spotlight not only their elegant words, but also on Bahnson's, Glazer's, and Wright’s exceptional guitar (and mandolin) playing.
While the set primarily focused on new material—including “Stars,” “We Think What You Think,” and the heartbreaking “Love Me Like She Did”—older works, and a heartfelt tribute Bahnson penned for his father added to the line-up. The lads even found space on some numbers to jam together, building and building before bursting into song once more. You’d hardly expect to encounter that sort of raucous joy without a rhythm section, but SPS managed just fine.
It would be easy to slot the group neatly into the same little compartment that houses other nouveau indie-folk acts like Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and even the very underrated Gabriel Kahane, but SPS possesses a more timeless quality. Their songs are reminiscent of so many you’ve heard before and yet are new, fresh, and engaging. They speak to humanity as a whole, addressing many subjects and experiences beyond the woe-is-me love that seems to suit tortured, guitar-strumming troubadours all too well.
It’s no wonder the audience was entranced from beginning to end. They even found a moment or two to dance. Rock concerts might be fun, but SPS handily proved that an exceptional folk show can be every bit as rewarding.