You know the indie-spectator stance: arms folded, beer tightly clasped, eyes narrowed in perma-skeptic stare. Tiger Saw cut through that shit. Like on New Year’s Eve at P.A.’s Lounge, when lead Sawman Dylan Metrano winds up the Newburyport collective’s late-evening set with the choral road ode “Postcards & Letters” by gently beckoning the audience to sing “Home is never really that far/Keep a song with you wherever you are.’” As this seven-piece incarnation of Tiger Saw echoes these lines, plodding forth at the slug-tempo’d pace of 50 bpm, a sleepaway-camp-style sing-along spreads through the room. Even a couple of woolly-hatted kids in the back who’d been murmuring together hush themselves and belt it out, “Home is never really that far . . . ” You half-expect someone to flip the switch on a fake fireplace hidden behind the drum set — this is some serious log-burning, cockle-warming stuff.
With their banjo-tramping traveling songs, their Carter Family slowcore, and their whispery serenades, Tiger Saw make quiet music for swelling hearts. New Year’s was their 110th show of 2005. It’s not a record: in 2004, they played 129. These aren’t just run-of-the-mill club performances, either. Last June they did a pirate-radio-station benefit where they dragged their equipment onto the floor and headlined the Central Square VFW without a PA. And in general they tend to play venues that’re as lo-fi as their aural approach: movie theaters, coffeeshops, houses, beach bonfires, a boat floating in the Merrimack River. “As we just tried more and more things, I really gravitated to art spaces, all-ages shows, house shows, spaces where softer music would be appreciated and not engulfed by bar noise,” Metrano explains. Once they even climbed into some trees and performed an acoustic set from the branches. “People would be walking by and the trees would be singing.”
Sing! isn’t just the emphatic title of Tiger Saw’s third and most recent full-length on Kimchee Records, it’s also the rotating-member-band’s manifesto. If Metrano saw a poltergeist, he’d tiptoe to his guitar, sidle up beside the specter, and invite him to join in. On Sing!’s celebratory title track, a glee-clubbed paean that suggests a ghetto Polyphonic Spree, Metrano pledges that he’ll sing “everything I feel,” “what our hearts understand,” and “when speaking fails.” To him, music is the ultimate shorthand, an unfailing amulet, the only abiding treaty.
Metrano writes about these feelings. He writes about friends. Smiles. Kisses. Trees. Family. The sun. The sea. Simple symbols of community, love, and life. “There’s nothing hidden in the language. For me, it’s actually really direct and simple; that’s the way that I can communicate the best.” He does so without irony, self-righteousness, or pretension. “When we were recording [“The Sun” from Sing!], I’d left my notebook at home and I called my friend Nikole back home, and I was like, ‘I forgot the lyrics to this song. Can you read them to me over the phone?’ . . . She was reading, ‘Touch her face, kiss her softly/Call her sweetheart and be so happy,’ and it was just so embarrassing. I was like, ‘I don’t know? That’s just what I wrote.’ ”
Metrano started the project six years ago, after he’d split from his high-school band Hamlet Idiot, an indie-rock outfit “all about youthful enthusiasm” who recorded with Steve Albini in 1995. In California, where Hamlet Idiot broke up, Metrano scribbled mopy tunes, recorded on a four-track, and sent tapes to musician friends. And so over the years, Tiger Saw have consisted of any number of 40 different contributors; 14 musicians appear on Sing!, including K Records’ Jason Anderson (a/k/a Wolf Colonel) and vocalist/pianist Casey Dienel, a Scituate native whose first record, Wind-Up Canary, hits stores in March courtesy of Hush Records, the Oregon label that first put out the Decemberists.
Metrano promoted New Year’s Eve as a “special night” because it would be the last outing of what he’d dubbed the “orchestral” version of Tiger Saw. Nat Baldwin, a vocalist/upright-bassist with an eight-song EP on Broken Sparrow, would soon be leaving for an East Coast tour. Electric-bassist Sam Rosen would be heading out with him in support of his own project. Dienel just relocated to Brooklyn. And so Metrano envisioned Tiger Saw’s next live phase as various combinations of frequent collaborators/members: Juliet Nelson, a buttery-voiced cellist whose lilting higher-range harmonies play Mimi Parker to Metrano’s Alan Sparhawk; drummer Gregg Porter (also in Hotel Alexis and Unbunny); a slide-guitarist/banjo plucker who’s listed in Sing!’s credits as blindbanjodjim.