Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light w/ Drew Martin, and Arthur James
Fremont Abbey Arts Center, Seattle, WA
There are certain venues that become an integral part of the live show. Think of those places that, as soon as you walk in, fill you with child-like wonderment. The Fremont Abbey is one of those places, playing host to three of the brightest local artists in Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light, Drew Martin, and Arthur James.
Opening the night was Arthur James, a brooding singer-songwriter who is usually seen wearing all black. He likes to describe others as “giants” and if you have stood next to him, he is usually the giant amongst the crowd. His mood and presence are much like Johnny Cash, not only in the choice of clothing but also in the deep, intense baritone voice. It’s a voice he uses to expertly cover notably tender songs such as “Cover Me Up,” by Jason Isbell, and “Hilary,” by Eef Barzelay. He is not all business up on stage, however, and breaks the melancholy with good comedic timing.
The most memorable piece of James’ set was his emphasis on collaboration and the highlighting of some of the best female musicians in the local music scene. He invited Sarah Gerritsen to duet “That Moon Song,” by Gregory Alan Isakov, Anna St. Lee for the aforementioned “Cover Me Up,” and Lana McMullen (his partner in the band Lyle) for his original, “Autumn Suspicions.” The last song brought a veritable who’s who in the Seattle music scene to perform “Liars,” for an auspicious start to a memorable evening.
From the moment you see Drew Martin you’ll notice his bright smile. A native of Maui, he brought that aloha spirit to the stage along with his bandmates, Seattle natives Isaac Castillo and Beth Fleenor. Hands down, Martin’s energy is infectious. Even sitting down, he could not stop moving and it was almost impossible not to get up and dance to his island folk style. Whether it be on the banjo, guitar, or harmonica, he smoothly transitioned from one instrument to another.
His set ebbed and flowed, while mostly maintaining a quick tempo. The highlight of the night was “Dreams of the Ocean,” an ode to his Hawaiian roots. It had a distinct sound you might hear while walking the streets or listening to traditional music in Maui. His 12-string guitar soared and his voice beamed with happiness. The night continued with much magic in the air.
Closing out the night was Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light. A staple in the clubs around Seattle, their signature “ethereal dream rock” seems to resonate through each crowd who listens. After regional success and a national tour in support of their debut album, Mornings Like These, GWNL are currently recording a new album with producer Eric Lillavois at the famous London Bridge Studios. Concerts like these are the testing grounds for the new material.
My favorite new track is “Dreamers.” Not technically a new track, as they have performed it in past concerts, it (I assume) will be a shoe-in for the new record. With wispy rhythm and positive message of “being a dreamer is good for the soul and the world,” it lifts the crowd up despite being a slow track.
The band is a tight-knit group of musicians who have obvious chemistry. With Gabriel’s brother Eli bringing spirit to percussion, the brass stylings of Robert Lee flying, the steady bass of Mia Jefferson, and the multi-talented David James, the musicality of this band is excellent. The night ended with their signature song “Runaways,” a song that leaves the crowd more aware of how we are all connected in one way or another.
The Abbey was an appropriate venue for a night like this; large listening room that lends well to local musicians looking to deeply connect with their audience. In addition, it is a place where the local music scene comes out in force to support their own. The old church is truly a sanctuary for the arts.
Review and photos by Phillip Johnson
Gabriel Wolfchild and the Northern Light