Buck Meek live at the Atlantis in Washington, DC review

One certainly witnessed new things during Meek's concert.
2021 Pitchfork Music Festival
2021 Pitchfork Music Festival / Daniel Boczarski/GettyImages

Buck Meek’s musical journey has taken him from Wimberly, Texas – home to Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Sara Jarosz, and Ray Wylie Hubbard – to the Berklee School of Music. Then, from co-founding one of the hottest bands in Brooklyn in the early 2010s to SoCal, where he now routinely goes night-surfing in order to get in touch with his creative impulses. He wears that eclecticism in his music.

He also wore it on his body in his show at the Atlantis in Washington, DC, on Friday night. Fronting a four-piece band dressed entirely in monotone grays and whites, Meek sported a bright fuchsia shirt that provided the only splash of color on stage. Fortunately for the sell-out crowd, visuals are not a big part of Meek’s act. His music is.

It’s a good thing, too, because Buck Meek looks about as far removed from a rock star as you will find. With his clean-cut blond mop and self-deprecating smile, Meek looks more like Jack McBrayer than Jack White. He spends more time trying to sell his opening act’s merch than talking about his own songs. And he often lets his lead guitarist, Adam Brisbin, take over songs with his dynamic, wide-ranging playing.

Buck Meek live review: Witnessing new things

Somehow he makes it all work.

Meek was raised on the blues in Texas, then quickly developed a passion for jazz. That led him to Berklee, where he was introduced to musical theory. It also brought him into contact with Adrianne Lenker, though they didn’t attend at the same time. Together, they formed Big Thief in New York. And they got married – for a while. After they split up, they remained friends and bandmates. With Lenker fronting and writing most of the songs for Big Thief, Meek began releasing his own solo albums in 2018. Last year’s Haunted Mountain was his third solo effort.

Meek played six songs from the new album, along with a good selection from his first two. He also played several brand-new songs, some of which aren’t yet named. And he threw in a Big Thief cover as well. Through it all, one thing became clear. Buck Meek songs are never just one thing. They may start out as simple folk tunes and morph into spacey guitar jams, as his opening number “Pareidola” did. Or explode from a sweet country melody into a high-octane rock & roller, like “Cannonball! Pt 2,” which allowed Brisbin his first epic solo of the night.

Meek has been performing with Lenker for most of his professional career and is comfortable singing with a partner. So it is not surprising that he brought out his friend and occasional co-writer Jolie Holland to sing a handful of songs, including the Big Thief song “Certainty,” which was a definite crowd-pleaser.

Holland opened the show with a 35-minute set that featured varied songs based on Lakota and Nyabinghi rhythms, among others. Meek even came on stage during her set to harmonize on one song. (Sans fuchsia shirt – he obviously didn’t want to steal the spotlight.) This was the final stop on their tour together, and they seemed to be savoring the moment.  

Meek’s eclecticism was on full display in the second half of his set. He transitioned from a hard rocker (“Undae Dunes”) to a lovely, quirky solo (“Joe by the Book.”) Brisbin left the stage during that number but returned for a spaced-out guitar performance on “Dream Daughter,” played atop a bongo rhythm provided by drummer Tim Carr. Carr, the most angular of drummers (and by that, I mean he is apt to strike his kit from any imaginable angle), also provided rhythm for Holland’s opening set.

Meek closed his main set with one of his newest singles, “Cuero Dudes.” It sums up what Meek does best. His twangy tenor chirps out an intriguing country tune before giving way to a titanic Brisbin guitar jam, complete with mega-feedback and a full-on light show. When he returned for an encore, Meek played three new songs. Two of them, ‘Déjà vu” and “Outta Body” have names, though Meek claimed to forget the title of “Déjà vu.” The third song doesn’t yet have a name. In fact, Meek said it was only partially written, which may have been why he sang a verse of “la la las” in the middle. I suggest “Demons Dreaming” for a title, in case he’s still looking.

There were a few things at the show which I had never witnessed before. I mentioned that Meek actively tried to sell Holland’s merch during his set. That’s a magnanimous gesture but hardly unique. However, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a performer dedicate a song to the merch table staffer, as Meek and Holland did during one of their duets. (For the record, her name is Randi.)

Next. Five songs from the 1980s that were better than they should be. Five songs from the 1980s that were better than they should be. dark

And I have never witnessed the situation that occurred with regard to the song “Haunted Mountain.” That’s probably because I don’t recall this situation ever happening before. “Haunted Mountain” is a song that Holland began but couldn’t seem to finish. Meek stepped in to write the final verse. They both decided to record versions of it for their latest albums. Not only that, they both named their albums Haunted Mountain. And they each played the song during their respective sets.

It's an excellent song – a worthy title track. On Friday, Meek’s version was a little more upbeat and energetic. I certainly liked Holland’s take, but of the two versions, I preferred Meek’s. Makes sense. After all, he was the headliner.

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