It's become popular to characterize the Long Winters' John Roderick as an intellectual ronin of sorts: a librarian without master who travels the countryside lending his songs and wisdom to brainy 826 benefits. Others reject this stuffy veneer outright, preferring to embrace him as a lovable vaudevillian rogue of the "song, dance, seltzer down the pants" variety.
Still, Roderick is well aware of his reputation as a mysterious dude, explaining, "It's never been clear, even to the people close to me, whether or not I might actually be an emotionally abusive, exploitative, drunken rapist posing as a sensitive singer-songwriter, and that's an ambiguity that I cultivate."
His band, the Long Winters, are back with their third album, Putting the Days to Bed (Barsuk), a sonic patchwork of lust, architecture, rock ’n' roll love children, and memories of lovers past that defy destruction. Maybe. Roderick writes to ensure that his lyrics don't bind the listener with logistical detail, preferring to provide softly focused emotional Polaroid photos. "What I'm shooting for is that the listener be able to recall their own stories — when they felt the same way," he says. With mentions of everything from teaspoons to retired Air Force pilots, however, come fans usually seeking interpretational guidance. Why not indulge listeners with answers? "No one really wants me out in the parking lot after a show explaining my lyrics" he deadpans. "Even if a few people might think they do."
The crazy thing is, it actually works. On "Teaspoon," rituals of courtship, "the way that she smiles me down," careen past as a horn section trumpets the start of a new relationship. Even if the lady in question "claims to be clowning," the mood is clear, the butterflies in the stomach already swirling. Putting the Days to Bed's best moment is the wistfully gorgeous "Seven," a song that lies on its back in tall grass, staring at the sky and hoping against hope to see a lost lover's face in the clouds. "Would you say that I/ Was the last thing you want to remember me by?" Roderick wonders aloud.
It's this kind of masterfully eloquent longing that has built the Long Winters no small amount of indie fame. Yet while appreciative of the kudos, Roderick quickly reduces them to a digestible perspective: "I think the Long Winters fall somewhere between it being OK for us to sample some crackers from the deli tray of the Wrens without getting our hands slapped but not so far as to get drunk and spill guacamole on Sufjan Stevens's pants." (Kate Izquierdo)
With What Made Milwaukee Famous and the Vasco Era
Fri/13, 9 p.m.
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF