It has been nearly two years since I last saw Faun Fables, and around six since they last released an album, so I was excited when I heard about this album release show. I’ve seen Medicine Moon recently, but since they completely blew me away, I was ready for another round. That leaves Suspirea as the only (relatively) unknown quantity here. The band features ex-Lasher Keen member Bluebird Gaia, so I at least had an inkling of what to expect, or so I thought. As for the Starry Plough, it used to be somewhat of a second home, musically speaking. If I could divide my show-going history into discrete segments, I could very well say that my Ruthie’s Inn days were followed by my Gilman Street days, which then morphed into my Starry Plough period. Since then, it has been more of a venue free-for-all. I haven’t been back to the Starry Plough in years. Time does funny things when you get older.
No trip to Berkeley is complete without a visit to Amoeba. I even briefly visited Moe’s books across the street, where they were gearing up for a book launch for none other than Moe’s biography. I would have liked to have stayed, but I wanted to get to the Starry Plough on time, so I purchased one measly book and headed for my car.
I got to the Plough early, and caught up with various people. Dawn and Nils had just driven down from Portland, with children in tow. Both of Nils’ parents were there as well, and it was nice to see them out and about. His mom recently celebrated her 80th birthday. Dawn pointed out the medieval coloring book on the merch table she was setting up. It was created by her oldest daughter, Edda, so of course I added it to the stack of things I ended up buying (a stack which included the newest releases of all three bands).
Other friends and acquaintances filtered in, including my brother who, sometime since the last time I saw him, actually shaved.
Suspirea started out the festivities with a set consisting of originals with a few covers thrown in. Given Bluebird’s past musical endeavors, I was expecting something more pagan folk oriented, but what we got was a set of songs that had a hard-edged eighties new wave feel to them. Guitarist/vocalist Sasha Soukup sang and played in relatively straightforward manner, sounding like a revenant from the eighties. Drums and bass formed a pulsing backline. Bluebird Gaia also sang, and brought her usual musical eclecticism to the table with cello, violin, and bodhran. The first part of the set was more rock based, but then took a turn into Pentangle territory with pointed renditions of Once I Had A Sweetheart and Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. They also performed a Siouxie and the Banshees cover (not sure the name of the song, because while I’ve seen Siouxie and the Banshees, I don’t actually own any of their releases).
The band was obviously having a blast, and this was made even better by the multi-generational Faun Fables family dancing, with the young ones taking over the floor in their own inimitable style while grandma Mickie slowly moved to the beat nearby.
Medicine Moon’s set was too far removed from the last one I saw. Shantel Amundson and Sammy Fielding’s voices wove their magic over guitar, percussion, and occasional accordion. Both possess voices soulful enough to send shivers down my spine, so having them both together on stage sends me into fits of musical ecstasy. I helps that the songs are so beautiful too. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite (although that’s partly because I’m not intimately familiar with the names of the songs). One standout was the song Lupa, but nothing they played was less than excellent. The music is both haunting and emotional.
It’s a shame that some people chose to converse through the majority of the set. That’s the drawback to having shows in pubs. The last time I saw them, they received respectful silence for the duration of their set. Oh well…
Faun Fables got things started as a trio, with Dawn McCarthy and Nils Frykdahl joined by Cornelius Boots (of Edmund Welles fame). Nils and Cornelius were both playing instruments that Nils later told me were called staff flutes. Like the name implies, they were the length of walking sticks, but were played like flutes. In the week since then, I found several places online that sell similar items, so I now own a combination walking stick/bamboo flute that even has a compass affixed to the top end.
They proceeded to play most of the songs from their just-released “Born of the Sun” album, and the duo sounded as good as ever. This is the first time I’d heard most of these songs, so in that respect, this show wasn't much different from the majority of the other Faun Fables shows. That's the thing about local bands. One's first exposure to their songs is usually in a live setting. Faun Fables doesn't play nearly as often these days, but their releases are fewer and farther between too. That's the thing about being parents: it changes the focus.
I’d heard Invitation before, and it is one of my favorite songs from the album. It’s a heartfelt welcoming of an unborn child into the world. At the moment, my other favorites are Goodbye, Ta Nasza Mlodosc (based on the poetry of Polish poet Tadeusz Śliwiak), and Born of the Sun. They are all worthy of praise though. Faun Fables has always been good at mixing honesty, humor, and musical virtuosity. Not to mention sheer inventiveness and playfulness. These traits obviously run throughout their extended family too (I'm thinking about the medieval coloring book, among other things...).
Speaking of extended family, another highlight was the song Madmen & Dogs, which was written for Mickie for her 80th birthday.
Other musical guests included Mark Stikman on harmonica and Shantel & Bluebird on backing vocals/dancing.
By the time the last notes had faded into memory, it was after 12:30. Greg mentioned pie, but I was thinking of my hour long drive home, so I uncharacteristically declined.