Three years ago I saw Kris Orlowski play in a living room in north Tacoma. There were around 25 people there, sitting on couches and pillows, sipping on Solo cups. Last weekend I saw him play to a room of about 1000 at the historic Showbox at the Market for the release of his full-length album Believer. Needless to say, the guy has come a long way.
That evening was surreal for many reasons, but it started out with St Paul de Vence opening the show. Actually, now that I think of it, those guys played their first appearance at the Conor Byrne open mic three years ago. Look at them now. The band has gone through some lineup changes over the years, but still their heart lies in Benjamin Doerr’s beautiful folk songs, inspired by his grandfather’s stories about his time in the war during the French occupation. Serenading the crowd with new
and old songs, like “For Hummingbird Heron and Honeybee,” St Paul de Vence made that room feel much more intimate than it actually it – almost warm and fuzzy.
Coincidentally, I had seen the next band – Campfire Ok – play with Kris Orlowski exactly two years prior, to the day, at my alma mater. It almost felt like fate. Coming off a fantastic sophomore album last year, When You Have Arrived, Campfire Ok played several hits off that record, including the title track. They also showcased some brand new songs, which I was not expecting, but pleasantly surprised by. Mychal Cohen started in on a verse and I thought, “hey wait a minute, I don’t know these lyrics!” Keyboardist Zarni De Wet wasn’t able to make the show that night, but those boys still killed it, giving those familiar songs a new spin. They improvised, and they did it well.
At this point my heart was so full that I didn’t even think I could take any more good vibes. But like the Grinch, my heart grew two sizes that night just so I could accommodate it all.
There are a many singer-songwriters in Seattle. I mean, a lot. And I’ll tell you one thing; they’re not all great. But Kris Orlowski is one of the amazing ones. What he does better than anyone else is recruit some of the most talented musicians in this city. Seriously, that stage was packed with so much talent on Saturday that is almost didn’t seem fair. You have Torry Anderson, whose voice is the equivalent to melted butter, complimenting Orlowski’s warm baritone. You have Mark Isakson, who shreds better than most, and one must not forget his comically huge pedal board. You have Tyler Carroll, who flew up from L.A. to play the show, and has a bass face that rivals Este Haim. You have Jonathan Warman, who I’ve seen play with enough bands that I have to use two hands to count them. You have Greg Garcia, who was able to show off all his drum chops with Orlowski’s new songs – because they’re bigger and louder and faster and still just as poignant. Then there you have Andrew Joslyn on a few songs, and he has literally been touring the world, playing violin with Macklemore. And of course Kris himself – one of the most hard-working musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.
With the new record, Orlowski has expanded his sound in every way. Like I said before – it’s bigger, louder, and more electric – both figuratively and factually. The songs are the kind you want to listen to with big headphones that cover your ears, so none of that big sound can escape. And seeing them live – well it doesn’t get better, does it?
The new songs off Believer are a clear departure from Orlowski’s previous EPs, but that’s not always a bad thing. They mark a new point in Orlowski’s career, and I’m excited to see where they take him. Some of the standouts were the heartbreakingly earnest ballad “Carolina,” the dark and heavy “Slide,” and the building epic “Good Country People.” And of course, when members of St Paul de Vence and Campfire Ok jumped up on stage for the sing-a-long “All My People,” that was another high point. Skipping the rigmarole of leaving the stage and coming back up for the encore, Orlowski broke into the self-titled track, “Believer,” and just like that, everyone in
the Showbox became the chorus, singing along to every note.
At one point during his set, Kris told the crowd that playing the Showbox was “a dream come true.” And standing behind a line of fans just to congratulate my friend, I felt proud. From a house in Tacoma, to a college warehouse, to the Tractor Tavern, and all the way to the Showbox, it’s nice to have seen Kris Orlowski’s dream