With a higher percentage of green jerseys in the Free at Noon audience than usual this week, today’s guest SYML — that’s Seattle singer-songwriter Brian Fennell and a terrific band — knew quickly how to get into the crowd’s good graces.
“We know you’ve got the big game coming up,” he said between songs. “As a fellow bird in Seattle, best of luck. We’ll be rooting for you.”
As SYML showcased their sophomore album The Day My Father Died, out last week, the room was a hearty mix of “GO BIRDS” daydrinking revelry and open emotionalism as the band worked through a set of sensitive and cinematic soundscapey pop songs. Fennell’s hushed vocal and earnest arrangements recall any number of XPN faves, from Parachutes-era Coldplay to Glen Hansard to the Lone Bellow; the latter’s DNA was particularly palpable as the melody of “The Dark” rose into a resonant fervor with lyrics that might well be a mission statement for Fennell: “My love came down like holy rain / And she became my god that day / She taught me how to think out loud / To listen when there ain’t no sound / To love myself through all the doubt / To sing and make my mother proud.”
Comprised of keyboardist Abby Gunderson, drummer Ulf Wahlgren, bassist Brian Eichelberger (who Fennell says he met playing basketball fifth grade), and keyboardist Zawadi Morrow, the SYML live band leaned into reflective folk-pop on songs like “Tragic Magic” and “You & I” — where a capo high up the fretboard gave Fennell’s guitar a ukulele feeling, very gentle and twee. Elsewhere, unexpected instrumental switch-ups lent “Symmetry” and “Meant To Stay Hid” an atmospheric soundtrack feeling, which featured Eichelberger and Gunderson on violin, and Morrow on saxophone.
It struck an emotional chord, and Fennell joked that it was music for when “you like being sad,” but as the set closed with “Corduroy,” he cut the lows with warmth and good humor — “just one more and you guys can go out and start greasing those poles,” he said — as well as a wise perspective, with the brisk, breezy song closing on the contemplative lyric “only God knows if he’s right.”
Listen to SYML’s performance and check out the setlist and a photo gallery below; The Day My Father Died is out now via Nettwerk and available on Bandcamp.