Preview: City Dwelling Nature Seekers raise the bar


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It's hard to pinpoint exactly what a band that honed its sound at a pizza shop should sound like, but you wouldn't think it would resemble City Dwelling Nature Seekers.

The descriptively titled band formed at Duquesne University in 2008 and played frequent gigs at Milano's pizza shop in Uptown. With its expansive alt-country sound, City Dwelling Nature Seekers sounds more like it would have come from Nashville, Woodstock or Laurel Canyon.

The band made its full-length debut in 2010 and now raises the bar with an even more accomplished second album, "The Winter Year," again evoking The Band, Whiskeytown and the Pernice Brothers with rootsy musicianship and spirited harmonies.

City Dwelling Nature Seekers

With: The Boogie Hustlers.

Where: Thunderbird Cafe, Lawrenceville.

When: 9 p.m. Friday.

Admission: $10 (includes CD).

Leading the way is singer-songwriter Mike McCormick, who works beautiful wonders with a melody.

"My lyrics don't set out to make a narrative or really tell a story," he says. "They more often come from the way the melody makes me feel, which all of our songs always start with, a melody. Melodies create scenes or pictures in my mind, which I describe lyrically.

" 'The Winter Year,' " he adds, "is describing a sort of personal hibernation or a voluntary exile. It's a bit of the existential blues, I think. It's me working my way through some of the bigger questions you have to accept you'll never answer. Some songs are personal. Some are about people. Some don't mean anything at all, or maybe I just don't see it yet."

There's a melancholy, world-weary thread to his songs that the band -- guitarist Lee Hintenlang, keyboardist Dan Barrett, pedal steel player Peter Freeman, bassist Matt Booth, drummer Chris Parker -- lifts up with the buoyant melodies and intricate playing.

"We've come a long way in learning to play as a band," he says. "We were all able to play our instruments well in the first place. So I guess you can say we've learned when not to play. We learned to listen to each other more. Also, we've added a great pedal steel player, which has opened up a wide range of possibilities when it comes to song arrangements both in the studio and in concert. We want to write music that is harmonically interesting and dense, which can be challenging to the listener. If that means the form needs to stretch to five or six minutes to fit those ideas, then so be it."

That happens a few times, like on "He Had a Head," which takes off in a lovely burst of orchestral pop.

The band's efforts have been rewarded with gigs at Hartwood Acres, South Park, the Three Rivers Arts Festival and a Halloween show with Rusted Root on the Gateway Clipper, where members dressed as Devo.

Even more special, though, was paying tribute to one of their inspirations at the Thunderbird Cafe in April.

"Playing a night of music solely from The Band was one of the biggest things for us," the singer says. "A lot of work went into learning the music, which included the entirety of their self-titled second record. The performance -- which was part of the weekly Space Exchange series -- happened to be a few days after the death of Levon Helm. It was a great way to honor a musician we greatly admire."

music

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576.


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