The Mill was the perfect venue on April 19 for a Wednesday night of atmospheric delicacy, performed for a hushed full house. The Pines, local legends transplanted to Minnesota, framed the night with a sense of intimate delicacy. Their first songs, without percussion, allowed the audience to focus on the twining of harmonies and whispered vocals that generated a sense of intimacy. This was especially true of the haze created when the chords floated over the strummed strings of the guitar.
When J.T. Bates, drummer for Dead Man Winter, joined the band it added only a light background noise, more a gentle rain than something obtrusive. The Pines, as always, provided the integrity and fragility that I would associate with a spiderweb — something lovely and attuned to the spaces in which it is created.
The strongest part of Dead Man Winter’s set came when lead singer Dave Simonett allowed the band to clear the stage, giving space for the music to emerge from the combination of guitar, vocals and harmonica. The focus on this set showed the strength of his expression as a songwriter, and — as is true of Dylan and few others — the harmonica was used expertly to fill the absence of voice with tones of plaintive longing.
The band, both in their first set, and once they came back to the stage after Simonett’s solo performance, was strong but tended to dilute the power of the songs. They made things feel more generic than they should be, although the presence of the organ, foregrounded, adds something distinctive to the mix. Unlike the Pines, in which each member of the band seems wholly integral to the atmosphere of sound they create, the rest of Dead Man Winter felt somewhat unnecessary. It was as though the increased power and volume diluted the strength of the initial material, making the songs seem thinner, though louder.
The last songs of the set, played with the full band, showed why they are included: There was a brightness and ecstasy of spirit that betokened spring after winter. Perhaps it was having the Pines as an opening act, or the strength of Simonett’s singing alone, but this section ultimately felt less like a 70 degree February day — welcome, but unnecessary.