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Review Sat Apr 27 2013
Hem's been under the radar for a while. They're on their first tour in six years and their latest album comes after a hiatus that most fans presumed would lead to a split. However, Departure & Farewell, while perhaps not the most optimistic title for a band that's recently gone through what they have, is a strong effort highlighted by the smart ethereal folk music that they were built on.
After getting their breakthrough "Half Acre" and latest single "Tourniquet" out of the way at last week's Old Town show, Sally Ellyson casually mentioned that they were moving on to the divorce section of the set list, at which point she not-so-subtly pointed to the band's main songwriters as the ones with the experience to write such songs. Then a funny thing happened for me: a song that, for years, I've heard as sweet took on a whole new meaning as I realized that a misheard lyric and an outside factor (i.e., association with a particular romantic partner) had led me to hearing it all wrong. Strangely, I wasn't nearly as a broken up when the death section of the set list led to a similar revelation.
For a band that'd supposedly been on rocky terrain, they were wonderfully in synch. Ellyson's voice, as always, was sublime. The music carried their usual folky sound, but they dropped in elements of gospel, chamber-pop and country to add a richness that isn't heard on the albums. Ellyson spoke often to add anecdotes about songs or how the band got to a point with their music. Only once did she meander and it led to a fit of giggles interrupting her cue on "Lazy Eye." The requisite Old Town sing-along became a hum-along and the show wound down with a flurry of requests and a rousing 3-song encore that led most in the crowd to think, "This band can't break up. They're killing it."