Or, the Whale — that’s how they write it — is a seven-piece band from San Francisco with some country and folk instruments (banjo, acoustic guitar, pedal steel) mixed in with distorted guitars, drums, some vintage-sounding keyboards, and other rock elements. Two men and two women sing, sometimes solo, often in harmony — whether it’s tender, folky harmony or rock-style wailing. The lyrics are literate. There’s a song about pioneer psychologist William James, and the band name, of course, comes from Moby-Dick. Tying in with that 19th-century aesthetic, the band members often pose in vintage clothes for sepia-toned publicity photos.
So on first glance or first listen you could easily write off Or, the Whale as a clone of the Decemberists or a lot of other bands on the indie scene today. That would be a mistake, because there’s something about Or, the Whale that warrants closer listening. A closer look, too.
You can see and hear what I mean in the Or, the Whale live videos on YouTube. The band members sway and shamble on stage in a kind of spontaneous dance. Every song starts out a little sloppy and lumbering, but a little more than halfway through, suddenly the song will take off as the band starts rocking out. The guitars and drums sound great, the pedal steel sounds beautiful, and all of the vocals seem to get louder and more powerful and emotional. You’d be a robot if you didn’t find yourself a little moved by it. I don’t know how they do it…they get better and better as each song goes on.
OR, THE WHALE, The Casbah, Sunday, August 10, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $10.