I discovered The Staves, an English folk-rock sister trio, earlier this year through a documentary they were featured in: “Austin to Boston.” This film followed four bands (The Staves, Ben Howard, Nathaniel Rateliff and Bear’s Den) on a two-week-long tour in which they traveled across the country in five vintage VW camper vans. Although I do not define myself as a folk lover, I was immediately hooked by The Staves’ charm and charisma. I soon found myself purchasing a $15 ticket (the cheapest ticket I have bought in ages, I might add) to their concert on Feb. 18 at the Wonder Ballroom.
Mikaela Davis, a songwriter and harpist, opened for The Staves. Davis approaches the harp unconventionally; she plays the instrument with a pulse or rhythm as is often done with a guitar. As someone who has never seen a solo harpist performance live, I was immediately captivated. Sami Zimmerman ’19, one of many Lewis & Clark students at the concert, described Davis as “a beautiful angel that came down from the heavens to bless us with her harp.”
Unfortunately, the background roar of the ballroom’s bar area overtook the softly-spoken solo artist at times and often made it difficult for the audience to focus. The buzzing, upbeat atmosphere in the bar located in the back of the ballroom clashed with Davis’ gentle, slow-paced harp-playing. This, however, is not a critique of Davis’ performance (which was near flawless) but instead a critique of the ballroom’s layout as a whole.
Luckily, when The Staves began playing, the entire ballroom went silent. Accompanied by drummer Dave Power, Emily, Jessica and Milly Staveley-Taylor took the audience by storm. The sisters’ stage presence was phenomenal and their performance well-versed, with their similar voices harmonizing beautifully together (the fact that they are sisters may have something to do with that). The girls have been touring since 2010 and are all aged between 27 and 34. Before they started headlining their own tours, they performed alongside Tom Jones, The Civil Wars and Bon Iver.
The trio entranced the audience with their witty banter and genuine commentary. Their adorable English accents and drinking of earl-grey tea onstage only added to this entrancement. At one point, the eldest sister, Emily, remarked, “We are really lucky to play music for a living which isn’t even a real thing.”
In accordance with their newest single entitled “Tired as Fuck,” the girls were selling pillowcases and eye masks at the merchandise stand, along with the more traditional t-shirt/record. They were also accepting donations for RefugePoint, an organization focused on providing permanent shelters for refugees, as Emily announced midway through the show.
The sisters alternated between instruments (keyboards, guitars, bass guitars, etc.), although Milly and Jessica, the youngest and middle sisters, predominantly sang lead vocals.
“I was surprised by all the diverse sounds they could make, using the microphones in all different ways. I didn’t realize that wasn’t all just producing in the studio,” said Hannah Van Dusen ’20.
These harmonizing techniques were extremely evident in The Staves’ final songs. In their first finale (before the encore), the sisters layered different live recordings of their voices to create an echo effect. They then gradually faded out, leaving the audience with chills and begging for an encore. The sisters soon returned to the stage to sing their biggest hit: “Mexico.” Instead of being spread out across the stage as they had been the entire show, they gathered around one microphone in the center of the stage. The trio sang largely a cappella with a touch of guitar, leaving the audience in awe after the performance ended.