Sean Carey climbs down from the stage and sits at a floor-level piano. As he starts to play a faithful version of Tom Waits’ ‘Take It With Me’, the audience huddle around him in a homely manner.
It’s a rare moment of communion in the Wisconsin musician’s hour-long set, with the solo rendition finally matching the aspirational intimacy of his pastoral Americana. The song’s domestic simplicity and emotional directness mirror the themes in his own compositions, which he writes during downtime as drummer and harmony vocalist in Bon Iver.
Despite his solo career being a side project, on paper he threatens to eclipse Justin Vernon’s star: Taylor Swift has included one of his tracks on her Spotify playlist and Netflix commissioned a song from him for dark comedy ‘Flaked’. In support of third album Hundred Acres, however, the reality is more muted.
Where earlier releases drew on his classical jazz and percussion training to create dynamic tension, the newer material is often more languid and settled. Both ‘Fool’s Gold’ and ‘Yellowstone’ have a sense of autumnal melancholy, with the latter being gently reminiscent of Coldplay covering R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People.
These are pleasant enough stabs at the commercial middle ground but he’s capable of more heartfelt grit. This is shown on ‘In The Stream’, on which the support act’s Beatrijs De Klerck plays wistful violin, and ‘In The Dirt’, on which his three-piece band add an expressive ebb and flow.
On the basis of tonight’s show, he may be S. Carey by name, but his music certainly isn’t scary by nature.