tall firs 88.
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As Deerhoof rocked the Barby in Tel Aviv, their lesser-known compatriots Tall Firs brought Brooklyn to a Jerusalem alleyway on Tuesday evening as they played for a small crowd crammed into the Uganda's sidecar gig venue.
The band, comprised of guitarists and vocalists Dave Mies and Aaron Mullan and drummer Ryan Sawyer, recently wrapped up a tour of the UK and Ireland. On Tuesday night the threesome seemed not to have recovered from the shock of landing in tiny, tumultuous Israel after performing in front of a massive sold-out crowd at ATP UK's 10-year anniversary event.
I was lucky enough to behold ATP's immaculate curatorship at this year's Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, where their stage always featured the most innovative, radical acts, veterans and up 'n' coming bands alike. Tall Firs did not perform there, but they are no exception.
The band emerged five years ago, releasing two albums on Thurston Moore's label, Ecstatic Peace.
The first of these, released eponymously in 2006, is a diverse creation, a kind of exploration. The track "The Woods" could almost be mistaken for something recorded, trance-like, in a countryside cabin. "Buddy/Baby," on the other hand, is as urban as it gets: "Be my baby if you want to, be my buddy if you want to, make me a happy home or don't," sings Mies. Yet another track from the album is introduced during the show as "a love song about whiskey."
Tall Firs borrow from genres as diverse as pop-punk, freak folk, noise rock and shoegaze to create a style all their own. Countered by the precise, steady beating of the drum, their interweaving guitars pull heartstrings: One sets the scene, somber and withdrawn, while the other meanders dreamily across the landscapes of America and the landmarks of musical history.
They have been compared to Sonic Youth, but, ultimately, their sound just barely recalls the rebellious, innovative oeuvre of their mentors.
It can instead be described as something singular, introverted, so fleeting that you very nearly begin to think the music you just witnessed was a beautiful, imaginary thing.
This is New York, not unlike Jerusalem: A sense of purpose lost among historic streets and sidewalks; the kind of cold that seeps into your bones; specks of warmth so small that you might miss them; evergreens like firs standing tall, observant, rising above the dirt and stone and soot.
This was one of the Firs' longer shows - back home, they said, they play 40-minute gigs. Playing at Uganda, according to Mies, felt kind of like a spiritual experience. "Everyone was so quiet," he said. Mesmerized, perhaps, or trying to understand.
They played two encores ("Our fifth encore in five years," said Mies), one of them a chilling rendition of a song written by Mullan in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
"This is a song about a peaceful solution to conflict," Mullan said Mullan before the first chords sounded. The crowd laughed, right on cue.
Having worked near one of the city's subway stations, Mullan was affected by the attacks, as were many New Yorkers at the time. Nevertheless, he said, he had hoped his country's reaction would be peaceful.
Later he told me that he never thought he'd play that particular song in Jerusalem.
Politics aside, the band landed in Israel on Tuesday and spent a day adjusting and seeing the sights. "It's been amazing," Mies said, referring to both the Jerusalem crowd and the city itself. "We've been given an insider's view on things."
When I told him how extraordinary it was for a relatively unknown band from New York to play two gigs in Israel, he smiled and said, "That's why we're so glad to be here."