Backstage Pass: Tobias the Owl

Backstage Pass: Tobias the Owl

For the past few years I’ve been in a new music rut. I’ve never been great at discovering new music. In my twenties I benefitted from being around friends who were. They were the ones who read Rolling Stone or Magnet, always knew who was playing at the 9:30 Club, talked about music constantly, and maybe played in a band or hung out with people who did. They’d turn you on to the likes of Guided by Voices, Pavement, Wilco, and Yo La Tengo, and then you’d turn around and casually pass those recommendations off to others as if they were your own. You know, no big deal. As you get older, though, you’ve got to work a little harder at it. Those music pathfinders have kids and full-time jobs now, and it’s harder to get out for shows.
In theory it should be pretty easy to stay on top of things. There’s Spotify, Pandora, Apple something or other, and satellite radio. There are also apps like Soundhound that reliably (and magically, to this sometimes Luddite) grab lyrics out of the air and identify the song and artist. But in general, you’re seeing fewer shows, you spend less time with people who follow music closely, and when you get anywhere close to satellite radio you head straight to First Wave for a Clash fix. (Still the only band that mattered.)

I might finally be climbing out of that rut. On Thursday 23 February 2017, I caught a Tobias the Owl show at Capitol Hill’s Barboza. I’d seen Tobias the Owl’s lead singer, Elijah Dhavvan, perform a solo act at Columbia City Theater; this was my first time seeing the entire band. They put on an excellent show. Unfortunately, the lighting at Barboza on Thursday was a little tricky – occasional intense, bright reds that overwhelmed some of my shots. I found myself checking photos and settings more than I should have been. The risk for me in that situation is getting tunnel vision. But Dhavvan’s poetic lyrics, beautifully balanced by Sarah St. Albin, resonate and gracefully refuse to be ignored.


There’s another reason I like Tobias the Owl. I get the impression that they genuinely want their fellow musicians and bands to succeed. A rising tide lifts all boats. At the Columbia City Theater show, Mr. Dhavvan opened. Several times during his set he talked up Tom Rhodes and Claire Michelle. He did the same thing at Barboza, making sure to compliment Colorworks and Black Giraffe. Check them out if you get a chance. Here’s the band makeup from the Barboza show:

Yun-En Liu – Violin

Aaron Montgomery – Percussion

Andrew Duncan Gemkow – Bass

Benjamin Rud – Drums

Sarah St. Albin – Vocals

Elijah Dhavvan – Vocals, acoustic guitar, and songwriter


I gave fair warning at the outset – I’m not a music critic. No one covering the Music / Arts desk at The Stranger need worry about me gunning for their job. That’s really the extent of it. I like listening to Tobias the Owl do their thing. So much so that I’ve had Murmurs, off their Every Eye is a Universe album, on repeat. I’ve got loads of CDs that I’ve bought at shows that never got a listen. This one won’t be added to that club.


Note: This is an unsolicited review. I sent Tobias the Owl some of the photos I took at Mr. Dhavvan’s Columbia City Theater show. When I saw they’d be playing at Barboza, I emailed them and offered to shoot photos if they didn’t already have someone lined up. I did ask to get on the guest list. I wanted to avoid a sold out show or having to stand in the rain with a couple of cameras. I bought my own CD.