Photography by Brittany Brassell
Silhouetted by rays of light, Hundred Waters couldn’t have looked more mysterious. The tumbling beat of “Out Alee” rushed through the speakers as each member methodically leaned over their instruments. Draped in a white fur coat, lead vocalist Nicole Miglis pulled herself away from her keyboard and coolly grabbed the microphone. With all the mystique the band exuded, it was easy to forget they were featured in a Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad just a few weeks prior. They feel much more in their element on the dark-lit stage of Seattle’s Neumos than in a global spectacle.
Hundred Waters is a band marked by their embracing of subtlety. On their breakthrough record, The Moon Rang Like A Bell, no track moves quicker than a brisk jaunt. Despite being on Skrillex’s OWSLA label, they’re not cranking out bangers. The closest they get to a “drop” is the skittering synthesizer line on “[Animal]”, which incidentally got one of the biggest crowd reactions of the night.
While listening to the record, it’s easy to imagine Miglis emphatically waving her arms and embracing the moodiness of the tracks. But in reality she’s nothing like that. At the Neumos show, she remained still and composed throughout. In the rare moments that she raised her arm, it would stop before passing shoulder level. Her cohorts, meanwhile, were swinging their hair and convulsing their bodies to the rhythm of each slow, lush beat. No matter how much her male counterparts rocked out, it was her tranquil presence that commanded the stage. Between songs, she barely said more than a few words. Miglis doesn’t seek the limelight: It comes to her. She lets the atmospheric tones of the music handle the semantics.
Watching Miglis play, it was easy to imagine her as a Regina Spektor or Ben Folds type in another life, a quirky piano singer-songwriter with a penchant for complexities. This was made clear when she performed “Show Me Love” (from the aforementioned Coca-Cola commercial) solo on piano. Instead of playing up the vocal effects from the recording, she used the moment to highlight her dexterity on the keys. This, along with an encore performance of one of her old solo songs, saw Miglis at her most comfortable. The electronic scene might not be her first home, but her placid demeanor is a welcome differentiation.
That understated composure extended to the rest of the band in other ways. When guitarist Paul Giese stepped up for a solo during “Chambers (Passing Train)”, he did so in the sparsest manner. Considering the copious distortion he had running through his pedal board, it must have been tempting to “let it rip.” Instead, he played just a couple notes at a time, letting the space in between build the tension. Likewise, when Trayer Tryon would switch out his beat pad for a bass, he opted to add tasteful textures instead of brash flourishes. The four musicians have an extremely high skill level, but none ever felt like they were showing off.
Even on their own headlining bill, Hundred Waters was the most unsuspecting act. Their touring opener, Moses Sumney, wowed the crowd with his guitar virtuosity, vocal looping, and infectious attitude. With a few strategically used words, he could tell the audience to effectively shut up without losing their support. The contrast between his emotive set and Hundred Waters’ gave an appreciation for both schools of thought. Meek and quiet can carry just as much weight as extroverted and spirited. As the band finished their set on the particularly upbeat “Xtalk”, it almost proved that point. Hundred Waters can be just as lively and just as compelling without a larger than life persona.
Miss (new song)
Chambers (Passing Train)
Show Me Love
Down From The Rafters
Birched and Bloomed