Marian Hill is a duo on paper, but a trio in practice. As a duo, they fit in with a popular current mold of a plain looking dude twiddling knobs and hammering away at a drum machine/sampler with a coquettish female on vocals, in the same vain as AlunaGeorge and Sylvan Esso. It’s popular for good reason. But when they add the sometimes subtle, sometimes frantic sax work of Steve Davit, they distinguish themselves from the crowd.
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One of the other things that sets the music of Marian Hill apart is their decision to keep the production minimal. Slow, marching beats, teasing spurts of synths, and vocal samples that sound like they’ve been thrown into a blender, then reassembled come together to with a lot of sonic room to spare. That’s a big task in the highly compressed, constantly loud landscape of modern music, particularly so with dance music.
So how does that translate to a live show? Does it make a venue feel empty? Is there enough there to work with?
It translates just fine. The loud and quiet pieces are balanced and allow Samantha to work the crowd throughout a song and over the course of the night. Their Wednesday show marked the end of their Unusual Tour in a venue that fit a little like dad’s t-shirt when you were a kid. The Palace Theater looks like a nice theater that got in one too many fights with dive bars and grungy venues, which is a perfect setting for most music, Marian Hill included. It’s just a little big for them and for a midweek school night.
For only making music for a few years, Samantha’s learned quickly how to work a crowd. She’s slinky one moment, pop-lock-and-dropping it the next, and steps to the side/back of the stage to make way for Steve when it’s sax time.
For their part, the crowd was incredibly enthusiastic, bordering on rambunctious, surprisingly so for a Wednesday night. However, at times, they were perhaps a little too enthusiastic. I don’t make a habit of reading up on other Marian Hill show reviews, nor have I sought out their tour diaries if they exist. Gauging by their reaction, there seemed to be some kind of inside joke or tradition of cheering Steve on individually, judged by the low, though loud chanting of “STEEEEVE” by what sounded like exclusively male audience members. There’s a fine, but definite line between cheering and razzing and it felt like the Palace crowd marched right across it. Maybe it was the trauma of being picked on in middle and high school coming back to me, but the crowd’s cheers of STEEEEVE triggered something inside me, something really uncomfortable and awkward, and something that I saw reflected in Steve Davit’s facial expressions as the crowd cheered at him. Maybe that’s the difference: Cheering for versus cheering “at.” Technically they were cheering for Steve, but really, it was something he had to tolerate and play along with. He had a couple songs with dancing parts where he moved in ways that are not easy for somebody his height. As somebody who is 6’5” I can attest that he has to work a lot hard to get that much torso to move like he did.
It felt like bullying, which is really sad and inappropriate for an adult to have to endure, particularly so at an event where they bullies are paying the bullied. It left a bad taste in my mouth, in my psyche, and I honestly hope it was something I read into too much. But based on Steve’s reactions, I’m not convinced that’s the case.
Aside from that rather ugly piece, the show checked the requisite boxes of songs I wanted to hear (including the delightfully peculiar “oh yeah i love u”), and there was plenty of room to move around.
I’d recommend hitting up Marian Hill for a future show and the Palace Theater for the same.
I work, live and play in Minneapolis.
I try to tell the story of the people that create music and experiences through pictures as well as through words.