“This is the seventh time we’ve been back in Asheville,” said The Apache Relay front man Michael Ford, Jr. “Seventh time is the charm.” At least it was for the Nashville-based indie-rockers during their Grey Eagle show last week. The band played with the sort of joy and unbridled energy of a well-rehearsed unit on the homeward stretch of a long run. Which was kind of the case — they were three shows shy of a break.
But, from the gauzy, dreamy opening into the thick bass and drum build of “Streets of NYC,” the band was completely present. They’ve honed their stage show as part of the Mumford & Sons-led Gentlemen of the Road tour, and countless festivals and concerts, but there’s also the palpable sense that Ford and his band mates (his brother Ben Ford, Mike Harris, Brett Moore, Kellen Wenrich and Aaron Early) are fans of their own music and are, with each performance, delving deeper into the emotionalism and musicality of each song.
The anthemic “American Nomad” is all energy and loudness, but the loudness has a purpose. It’s a conductor of feeling, of hope and dreams and the scream that escapes during fast downhill bicycle rides and other instances of pure abandon. The Apache Relay has a penchant for those full-speed moments of bombast (made famous, most recently, by the aforementioned Mumford), but this is a band that can control the chaos, reeling it in, tempering it with nuance and utter loveliness.
A lot of the loveliness is due to Wenrich’s fantastically tasteful violin which he plays, not like an aerobicly-sawed-at fiddle but, indeed, like a violin. Gentle, sweeping, passionate and often orchestral. (And, with his hair in a bun atop his head, at the Grey Eagle.) That’s one of the major artistic decisions that sets the Apache Relay apart in a sea of rootsy indie rock (Wenrich’s richly-textured contribution to the moody “When I Come Home” is breathtaking). That, and Ford’s writing, which is both heartfelt and pop-savvy. They performed a couple of new songs, which proved to be perfectly in line with the band’s back catalog, and older offerings from 2011’s American Nomad, like “Mission Bells,” were still fresh.
That song, with its instrumental opening and big drums hinted at The Beatles more than, say The Avett Brothers. Two stand outs (not that there were any missed steps), were the soulful “Sets Me Free” and the jangly, hand-clappy, falsetto-spiked “Tongue Tied.” That song makes use of interesting rhythms (a cha-cha, in this case) — something else that sets Apache Relay apart. And makes them such a great band to follow. A band worth rooting for. A band that will, hopefully, make its way back to Asheville soon. Photo from the band’s Facebook page.