Hand Habits with Tomberlin and Mega Bog at Sunset Tavern
March 26, 2019
Words by Aarin Wright, Photos by Marcus Shriver
Lush psychedelic folk songs, riveting guitar solos and tiny frisbee jokes awaited attendees at the Sunset Tavern on March 26, 2019. Headliners Hand Habits, led by creator Meg Duffy, treated the sold-out crowd to a moving 12-track set, the majority of tunes pulled from their newest record, placeholder.
As the band took the stage at 10 p.m. sharp, dressed up in a rainbow of neutrals, the crowd collectively took one step forward.
“Time for music,” Duffy said, before counting in the smooth and ambient groove of “All The While,” the introductory single off Hand Habit’s debut album Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void). Duffy’s soft, placid voice commanded the room, and was soon joined in three part harmony by keyboardist Kacey Johansing and drummer Johnny Andrews.
Instantly notable was Duffy’s guitar dexterity, as they’d casually step away from the mic to launch into staggering riffs. From slide guitar on “guardrail/pwrline,” to live looping on “the book on how to change part II,” runtimes of each track were expanded to include fully fledged jams.
Far from a newbie in the music scene, Duffy has previously toured with Kevin Morby’s band, worked as a studio musician for The War on Drugs and Weyes Blood, and shredded guitar on Seattle’s own experimental art-rock group Mega Bog’s 2017 record Happy Together.
It was Mega Bog themselves who kicked off the evening with infectious laughter, theatrical vocals and a track creator Erin Birgy referred to as “our fake metal song.” A gleeful reunion was inevitable, and Duffy joined them on stage to contribute a few chords.
Up next was Hand Habits’ Saddle Creek labelmate Tomberlin. Delivering self-proclaimed “sad bangers,” she sat solo on stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar. The simple set-up, coupled with her ethereal voice and emotionally wrecking lyrics, allowed the audience to indulge in their own melancholy. Luckily each track was broken up by playful banter, from memories of Tomberlin’s dog Annie to her demand for “questions, comments and concerns.”
Duffy themself peppered in tongue-in-cheek conversations to counter their existential dread-filled lyrics. They politely requested “no chompers” (a shout-out to the minimal Phish fans in the audience), and led the crowd through their journey of accidentally purchasing numerous five inch diameter frisbees for tour merch. These are noticeably more tiny than the average frisbee. (Shout-out to this reviewer’s photographer, who immediately bought one for his equally tiny dog.)
After leaving the stage and receiving a boisterous, impressive-for-a-Tuesday-night call for an encore, Duffy returned alone to perform “Flower Glass,” a track they admitted to have written in Seattle. Like most of Duffy’s songs, the pleasing melody softened the blow of the heart-rending words.
“When I hold you like a flower, I hold you like an hourglass. Hold you like you’re the only thing I yearn.”
High on expertly crafted verses and soothing choruses, by the end of the evening the only thing the audience yearned for was more.