It’s becoming a pretty common sight these days to see violins, violas and cellos onstage at an indie-rock concert. Both local and touring bands often seem almost like miniature orchestras or string quartets at Chicago venues such as Schubas, the Empty Bottle and the Hideout. One of the best and most sophisticated of the current orchestral rock outfits is Lost in the Trees, an ensemble from Chapel Hill, N.C.
Lost in the Trees’ 2008 album All Alone in an Empty House alternates between delicate, highly melodic folk rock, which is a little reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens, and some instrumental orchestral compositions that are about the closest thing to traditional classical music that you’ll hear anywhere on a rock CD today. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Ari Picker is the dominant guy in Lost in the Trees, but when the band came to Schubas last Thursday (July 9) it felt like a true ensemble. A full string section played beautiful arrangements throughout the set, supplemented by guitar, drums, mandolin, glockenspiel and horns. The strong tunes from that 2008 CD resonated in concert, affirming that this is definitely a group to watch for future releases. (And now I really want to hear the earlier Lost in the Trees releases from 2004 and 2006). Lost in the Trees finished its show by moving off the stage and onto the main floor at Schubas, playing unamplified with a bunch of fans gathered around. It was a lovely moment.
The first band of the night was Halloween, Alaska, which seemed to have a fair amount of fans in attendance, including people who really recognized the songs. The band sounded too much like Death Cab For Cutie for my tastes, but I suppose that’ll be a strong selling point for many folks. (And like so many bands these days, this one is named after a place where they are not from. They’re actually from Minnesota, not Alaska. As a native of Alaska, I disapprove.)
The second group of the night was Box of Baby Birds, a Chicago group led by Gary Calhoun James. Box of Baby Birds plays subtle, mellow folk rock with moody textures. The group’s new EP, Arboreal, is another fine recording, worth delving into, and the songs sounded beguiling at the Schubas performance. Box of Baby Birds is also playing July 23 at the Hideout on a bill with Cameron McGill. Alas, these CD release shows are also being billed as “farewell shows” for Box of Baby Birds, as James is apparently moving to Austin, Texas.