The New Parish is packed – with couples trying to dance a two-step, with indisputably underage girls taking selfies, with raucous laughter, with the sounds of congas and pulsating bass lines. And, rising above it all, an exceptional falsetto that captures every eye and ear in the place.
The voice belongs to Nate Salman, the captivating front man of the Oakland four-piece band Waterstrider. As the rhythm section explodes around him, Salman seems transported: he thrashes and flails around the stage, punctuating his melodies with splayed hands.
If all goes according to plan, he won’t remember any of it.
“If I’m doing it right, it’s like I’m meditating, I forget what happened afterwards,” he says. “I get out of my head a lot.”
Which is exactly what the band hopes will happen to the audience, too. But they’re not making it easy for themselves. Instead of reaching back to last year’s Wind-Fed Fire EP, infectious tunes full of ample sing-along opportunities that draw from a wide range of influences including Fela Kuti, Brazilian percussion and experimental rock like Sigur Ros, they are playing a set of all new, unreleased songs.
Salman wrote the new material, at least enough for a full-length record, in a quick burst in Santa Barbara. At the time, he says, he wasn’t sure who would perform the songs: members of the then-six-piece were leaving the Bay Area, and no one knew if Waterstrider would continue to exist. He wrote parts for every instrument, recording the entire thing himself.
Unlike his older material, much of which Salman says was written for the sake of having songs to play, the set the band plays tonight covers ground far more personal to Salman, as he speculates on questions of fame and celebrity, mortal fragility and even a song about a friend who broke her back. Often, he explores these questions through the lens of myths: the band’s next single, “Calliope,” takes its name from the Greek mythological figure of the same name, the muse of epic poetry.
Tonight’s show is a chance for the reincarnated band to flex its muscles and test-drive its new songs; little changes that occur in a live setting influence the recordings, which are still unfinished and, as time passes, often come to feature the other musicians more and more. “I don’t think any of them at this point are all me,” Salman says.
Watching them you would never know that they hadn’t been playing these songs for years: Walker Johnson and Brijean Murphy provide percussion that crashes like a storm, providing the perfect foil for Salman’s lilting falsetto while alternately locking into tight grooves that carry his voice forward like a kite in the breeze. Each note of Brown’s melodic, walking bass lines hits you in the gut and ensures that heads keep bobbing.
As the band launches into the only recorded track of the night, “Constellation,” a jaunty rock number with an infectious staccato guitar riff, the crowd erupts into shrieks. Behind me, two young women huddle over a phone, searching for the lyrics and eventually singing along. But even they can’t hit the notes, they’re painfully off-key. They don’t seemed worried, though – they’re lost in the song.