Drummer Jim White spoke into the mic for the first time right before his band’s third song, “The Feast,” to explain that it was written about a baptism celebration in the village of his band mate, George Xylouris, that he was invited to. Both spoke only briefly about the tradition, as the focus of this Monday evening at Cafe Nine was the celebration of a another type of blessing: music, its creation, and the sharing of it with others.
Xylouris White, the duo consisting of the two aforementioned musicians, are currently on tour celebrating the release of their latest record, titled Mother, and this stop at the weekly Manic Monday show marked their return to New Haven after a show at BAR in 2016. The room filled quickly, and the band members spoke with and greeted members of the audience familiar with them and eager to experience their unique sound once again.
First to the stage, however, was guitarist Trevor Healy, hailing from Easthampton, Mass. and accompanied by Joshua Owsley on upright bass and Jason Labbe on drums, sharing their set of seven instrumental pieces with the crowd. The final song was a solo by Healy. Opening with a piece titled “Wrapped in Water,” the trio created a floating sound — perhaps down one of those long rivers Massachusetts is so well known for. After a couple of covers that brought forth a deeper and bluesier sound from the band, Owsley asked how the crowd was doing and got minimal response from the large but, as it turned out, somewhat timid group.
“Don’t be shy, you can move closer to the stage,” a voice from the back yelled.
“But we’re shy, so…” Owsley responded, and got a few laughs. Healy agreed. “Yeah, there’s plenty of room,” he said. “Move up.” The crowd slowly but surely did.
Healy also talked about how he always came back to “the things I listened to in high school that allowed me to see things differently, and for me it always comes back to Fugazi,” which garnered cheers from the audience as the band went into a Fugazi cover that Healy joked “we figured out how to play.” Healy also dedicated one called “Indian Motorcycle” to George Xylouris, noting that his band had a song about a motorcycle too. The lush and lovely musicianship of this trio was received well by the audience; whispers of words like “amazing” and “incredible” were heard after their set was complete.
By the time Xylouris White came up to perform, the crowd had filled in even closer to the stage. From the first note of one of their newer songs, “Daphne,” to their final epic piece, the two musicians seemed to barely rest as they created a swelling and swirling celebration of sound, at times meditative and at times a feverish call to dance and delight in the senses.
If you have never seen this band, you are missing a complete musical experience. At once you are torn between simply being mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the sound and wanting to wildly participate in the movement and vibe it creates. This reporter, as usual, was eager to throw down her camera and pen and dance, which I did eventually, but to watch the creation of the music and the interaction of the musicians with their instruments and each other is also a sight to behold.
Xylouris and White remind me of painters in a way, using their hands to create music visually as well as aurally. White in particular commanded various sticks, mallets, and brushes, selecting and interchanging each almost seamlessly, even dropping the mallets vertically onto the drums at times, dipping into each beat and stroking the set to create his sounds, all with an effortless look in his eye, and one of love for what he was doing. Xylouris also employed a loving technique with his lute, at times bringing it up closer to his face as if he and it were communicating to each other in secret whispers and words, an intimate interaction witnessed by the audience as a blessing.
The crowd ate up every bit of this feast of sound, every rise and fall of it. After the final piece, which began with lone soft vocals from Xylouris, built steadily and strongly, and ended with his creating an intense whistling sound with his mouth and fingers, the audience responded with wild full fervor and waited to see if they would get more.
Feasts are definitely not something new to New Haven, a city that is known for celebrations across its neighborhoods. This night itself reminded me of those best type of family and friend gatherings, the ones where you haven’t seen anyone in a while, but once you come together everything just falls into place as if no time had gone by. Healy seemed to feel the same way when he spoke right before his final song, mentioning that he was from Stratford and that he had friends and family there that night and had gotten some Pepe’s Pizza.
“It feels really good,” he said.
Xylouris White continues their tour of the U.S. through April. Find more info and dates here.