On Monday evening, a slightly older than usual Bowery Ballroom crowd slowly filed in as Cuddle Magic hit their stride a couple songs into their opening set. Trumpet, vibraphone, double bass, keys and guitars matched wits with atonal harmonies for the better part of 40 minutes. Hailing from Brooklyn and West Philadelphia with origins in the New England Conservatory of Music, the sextet blends an array of voices and instrumentation into a charming indie chamber music palette.
“I don’t wanna sing this song, but my mouth is wide open,” Ben Davis sang as the night began. He and Alec Spiegelman shared vocal duties with Kristin Slipp throughout a set spanning the band’s three albums that included an unreleased song, the Slipp-fronted “Good For Meeting”, from a forthcoming record. Cuddle Magic will be taking a break from the road after their brief run in support of Anais Mitchell to record their fourth album in a pool house, because a studio simply wouldn’t be quirky enough.
A solemn duck whistle provided the lead-in for “Friends of the Mad River”, a track replete with totem pole and pterodactyl imagery. For an ensemble as talented as they are, their duck whistle and hand clap bridge sounded every bit as pleasant as the jackhammer outside my window the past couple of months at 7am. There is little non-ironic gold to be mined from the duck whistle.
While Slipp hit the appropriate high notes on “Paper Mask”, it was Spiegelman’s sad sack croon on “Expectations” that stole the show.
“My expectations fuck me over and then / My inclination is to do it again”, he lamented over a doleful acoustic guitar and a double bass carefully dressed in a shirt, much like Marcus Bachmann putting sunglasses on a puppy.
The magnetic and awesomely titled “Moby Dickless”, taken from the recently released Info Nympho, closed the curtains on Cuddle Magic, and with a synchronized bow they were off.
Anais Mitchell, the fiery songstress who turned heads earlier in the year opening for Bon Iver at Radio City Music Hall, kicked off her headlining Bowery set with a Biblical hymn from the mean prairies of South Dakota. Bandmate Rachel Ries, with whom Mitchell collaborated on the Country EP a couple years back, learned the Mennonite hymn in the aforementioned unlivable state. Ries provided keys as the pair harmonized on a tune from the EP featuring a clever turn of phrase or two. “What are you so heavy for? / I can’t hold you anymore”, they sang on “O My Star!”.
The banjo-infused “Dyin Day” was among Mitchell’s most beautiful and poignant constructions. Prior to launching the brilliant title track from Young Man in America and singing of “Another wayward son waiting on oblivion”, she implored the crowd to give it up for Cuddle Magic, whom she suggested “really operate on all of the chakras at once”. Following that cringe-worthy statement, Spiegelman and Cole Kamen-Green of Cuddle Magic reemerged and added a rich horn section to Mitchell’s four-piece touring band.
“I spent a long night with a stranger I give my body to / And still I miss you”, Mitchell starkly relayed on “Cosmic American”. Sparse acoustic guitar and delicate keys accompanied her serene howl throughout the night on tracks like “Coming Down” that had a packed house of 30-somethings under her spell.