In review: We Are the Willows

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Let me confide in you: I’m not a crier. I’m sure no one openly admits that they are, but I can assure you, I do not cry. That being said, I am going to come clean and say that this Friday night I bawled my eyes out.

Peter Michael Miller, the front man of acclaimed Twin Cities band Red Fox Grey Fox, took the stage at the Cabin as “We Are The Willows,” a solo endeavor that began roughly two years ago. Just days before the show, a new single entitled “A Funeral Dressed As A Birthday” was released for free download off Ambledown Records‘ Web site, along with an announcement of a new album in November. The album, titled A Collection of Sounds and Something Like the Plague, will be “We Are The Willows'” debuted full-length.

Miller stood center stage, and a small projector screen hung to his right side when he began the relatively intimate show. Each song came with a personal narrative, with Miller repeatedly returning to a slide projector that featured photographs of his family.

The stories added depth to each word, transforming the songs into pages of a well-worn diary. Attendees left knowing that Miller’s brother fights forest fires, that his father played the same guitar he plays to this day, and that he has a niece named Isabelle. These seemingly miniscule facts gave the background needed for each song to stir memories of one’s own family and friends, creating an individual experience.

Miller played a consistently excellent show, but two songs stood out above the others. “Isabelle’s Song” paired simple ukulele chords with a gorgeously flowing melody, unveiling an innocent, childish atmosphere. The highlight of the evening, however, came early on when Miller played the newly released single off A Family. A Tree. to be released in October.

That single, “A Funeral Dressed As A Birthday,” is what instigated my onslaught of emotions. Recorded, the track is layered with various melodies and rhythmic banter, all complimenting Miller’s clean arpeggio and comforting melodies. Despite the intricate production, the song seems powerfully simple.

Lyrically, Miller tells the story of a friend who was required to attend a family funeral on his 21st birthday, before driving back home for a party. The juxtaposition of such a somber affair and a joyous occasion mirrors the dynamic shifts within the song. When played live, Miller’s voice soars with emotion, punctuating the already strong accents. His guitar seems hauntingly naked without the cover of production. “A Funeral Dressed As A Birthday” engages in a heart-to-heart conversation with the listener, exposing a lifetime’s worth of emotional highs and lows. This openness is what draws people to Miller and what makes “We Are The Willows” a sanctuary when it is most needed.

Both A Family. A Tree. and A Collection of Sounds and Something Like the Plague will be released on Ambledown Records this fall.

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