The Maldives have been through it all. Since 2005, they've traversed the Seattle music scene as its continued to evolve, change, and contort itself in new directions. Their steadiness as contemplative folk rockers does not equate to a resistance to change. They still have acoustic guitars, steel guitars, and banjos thrown into the mix, but those are just means to an end for the larger questions the band seems to be asking.
On April 1, the band gathered for two shows at The Triple Door to celebrate the release of their new album, Mad Lives. As the band puts it, it's a record telling the story of a man falling in love with the sun, falling into the ocean, and then losing his sight staring at the sun and trying to find that love again. The levity of the space, with diners and servers bustling under dim lights, felt appropriate for the collection of songs. It was very much a night at the theater with The Maldives serving as the principle storytellers.
At the core of Seattle songwriter Naomi Wachira's sparse, opening set was a simple idea: hope. A solo acoustic set is always great for some introspective soul searching, but Wachira's excels by opening up the musical conversation to talk about ideas larger than herself. With each song she played, she'd offer poignant reflections on her own identity while also broadening the scope to how those core ideas can apply to others as well.
"Every person is beautiful because they are alive," she said right before playing her song "Beautifully Human". Her booming voice carried over the tables of the theater space, carried by the reverberating sound of her acoustic guitar.
Before The Maldives could take the stage, legendary DJ Marco Collins introduced the band with just about as much hype as you can give. He breathlessly praised the record, priming attendees who may have yet to hear Mad Lives. Collins set the expectations high. The Maldives delivered.
By the description of the album's narrative arc and the praise it's received, it'd be easy to assume that Mad Lives is a grand, sprawling epic in the vain of The Who's Quadrophenia. While the album and performance were not without their prodigious moments, the key to the brilliance is within the subtlety. When lead vocalist Jason Dodson stepped up to the microphone with his acoustic guitar, he held total control of the room. With each ringing chord of opener "No Sense In A Slow Death", the band slowly began to chime in. By the halfway point, the song has seamlessly transformed from a quiet meditation into a rumbling beast. They'd ride this feeling through the second song, "The Fight", before collapsing into the murkiness of "On Comes the Night". Dodson's vocals echoed over the synthesizer drones, bouncing off the ceiling and obscuring the sound of his own guitar.
The atmosphere wasn't always gloom - even if some of the song's lyrics may suggest otherwise. "A Day at the Beach" was a welcome change of pace for the evening, reveling in chunky chords and snappy rhythms before bringing things back down to the realm of country ballads with the serene banjo picking of "Reckoning." Throughout it all, the band remained stoic. They were messengers of the music, trying to stay out of the way as they executed this massive piece of work.
By the time Dodson stood alone on the stage to perform album closer "Blind", the crowd had been properly ensnared in the brilliance of The Maldives' story, just as Collins had promised. But before the first set of the night would reach its end, Dodson and co. had one more parting gift. The band returned to the stage one more time to perform a cover of David Bowie's "Blackstar". Tackling on one of the Thin White Duke's final works is a heavy task, even more than a year after his death. Yet it felt like an appropriate way to cap off Maldive's own emotive record. Dodson's weary vocals were a remarkable fit, fluttering above the twirling guitar lines and thundering rhythms. Bowie may have looked to the stars beyond our galaxy for inspiration, The Maldives looked toward one in particular: the sun. Their ambitions weren't blind, like the character in their story, but fully realized. This is the best The Maldives have sounded and that's definitely cause for an evening of two celebrations.
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