You can feel it in the air: No, it’s not a premature surge in campus pheromonal activity on this frigid first week of spring. It’s the electric hum of rising anticipation for the arrival of David Berman, iconoclastic ringleader of alt-country lit-rock band Silver Jews.
But who, exactly, is a typical Silver Jews fan?
“Well, I’ve never been to a SJ show, so I’m not sure,” said the typically enigmatic Berman via e-mail, “but I think we’ll be seeing our portion of disillusioned juggalos.” Um, whatever that means. But you can bet that devoted fans from bespectacled grad students to Chuck Taylor-clad high schoolers will be at the Blind Pig this Saturday to welcome Berman and his crew.
The long-sold-out Ann Arbor leg of the band’s unexpected but giddily received debut tour comes after the release of their long-awaited fifth full-length, Tanglewood Numbers – and a few shakeups to the band’s lineup. Occasional Silver Jew and former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus is out of the picture, but Numbers features a backing band of musicians like Will Oldham and the Jews’ Drag City labelmate Azita.
On their first-ever tour, Berman on guitar and his wife Cassie on bass serve as the band’s core. Rounding out the lineup are a slew of musicians who’ve made appearances on various Silver Jews albums: Guitarists Peyton Pinkerton and William Tyler played on sophomore effort The Natural Bridge and fourth album Bright Flight, respectively, and drummer Brian Kotzur and keyboardist Tony Crow helped to construct the shambling, soulful rock sound on Tanglewood Numbers.
Whereas most bands play shows locally or tour to support fledgling debut discs and garner exposure, Berman never got around to taking one of the various incarnations of his project on the road.
“I’m really just getting around to it,” he said. “There were a few things I had on my list of things to do before I could concentrate on touring, and it took 15 years to cross them all off.”
That to-do list included releasing five albums of sprawling, introspective, twangy-yet-poetic musical explorations as well as 1999’s “Actual Air,” a book of poetry that digs deeper into the wry wordplay and surreal-as-everyday narratives of Berman’s lyrics.
As Silver Jews fans know, Berman’s luck hasn’t always been as fortuitous as it is now. In the recent past, he has struggled with drug addiction and a suicide attempt. Musically, Tanglewood Numbers marks his return to a state of mind that’s more secure and more stable, but no less acute. And whether you prefer the subtle shift in tone from wandering meditations to cleaner, more direct tracks like “K-Hole” and “There Is a Place,” the change has served Berman well.
“(Numbers) was the first album since the first album (1994’s Starlite Walker) that did not seem like the final Silver Jews album,” he said.
Preparing for the landmark tour involved facing high expectations from fans. It’s not often that a band waits for more than 10 years to hit the road for the first time, but Berman is optimistic.
“I’ve been less nervous since we had our first practice and it sounded good,” he said. “I’m somewhat worried about how I’ll do being around people all the time, (but) I’m most excited about making a lot of work for my friends.”
And after the tour? “I can’t see past July. There’s too much in the way.”
Tomorrow at 9:30 p.m.
At the Blind Pig