Sensory Overload: Folk revivalists Saintseneca braced for a big year

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

It’s shaping up to be a helluva year for Saintseneca.

The local folk revivalists have a fantastic new album coming on Anti Records (Dark Arc, due April 2014), and the crew recently kicked off a two-week Midwest swing with a triumphant stop at Ace of Cups on Thursday, Nov. 7. Despite the celebratory atmosphere, however, the musicians kept things decidedly low-key.

“We’re kinda quiet,” offered frontman Zac Little — he of the strongman mustache and the slight frame — early in the band’s 40-minute set. He wasn’t lying. The four bandmates spent much of the performance huddled around a pair of microphones, harmonizing in hushed tones that suggested they were singing infants to sleep, and the audience burst into fervent shushing so often it sounded as though a herd of angry librarians had taken over the venue. Though the music was often vintage-lace fragile, the songs themselves were, at times, impossibly heavy.

Little, his voice appealingly cracked and nasally, crooned about escaping unimaginable horrors (“Blood Bath”), being tormented by apparitions (“Visions”) and, on “Acid Rain,” disintegrating amid a toxic storm.

Throughout there was a lingering sense Little was searching for something bigger than himself, a journey he explored most literally on “Missing Dogs.” “But what if I return and I’m empty?” he sang. “Am I really wrong for heat seeking?”

While the older songs were generally more delicate, the newer material explored slightly noisier byways (Dark Arc’s “Only the Young Die Good,” a gorgeous tune that existed as a hushed prayer, being a notable exception). “Blood Bath,” for one, briefly gave way to a noise-rock interlude reminiscent of mid-period Wilco, while “Happy Alone” achieved a galloping pace at odds with its downtrodden lyrics.

“Uppercutter,” like many of Little’s songs, found the frontman wrestling with feelings of regret — “Stinger lingers anyhow,” he sang like a man still reeling from the blow — but rather than getting bogged down, the group, which also includes Maryn Jones of All Dogs, Steve Ciolek and Jon Maedor, let loose with communal shouts that shook the rafters. It was a stirring moment, and one the band will likely recreate in front of bigger and bigger crowds over the coming months.

Photo by Andy Downing