When William Fitzsimmons finished his first song, “Speak,” to open his early show Thursday at the Triple Door, the reverent crowd wasn’t quite sure what to do, so they greeted the release of the somber dirge’s building weight with silence.
It felt like the right response, though they greeted the delicate construction and careful execution of “Beautiful Girl,” which followed the bizarre opening, with the usual satisfying cascade of cheers and applause.
Things have changed in Fitzsimmons’ life since he last played in Seattle. He’s a father now, and he released a new album, “Lions,” in February. However, Fitzsimmons wryly observed that he’s still writing the same old sad songs, so maybe things haven’t changed that much after all.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Fitzsimmons used “The Tide Pulls From the Moon” off his 2011 album “Gold in the Shadow” to remind the dinner crowd of his mastery over moody, atmospheric rock. That measured restraint paired well with “Fade and Then Return,” which Fitzsimmons built into a thoughtful crescendo that was one of his deepest forays into standard indie rock sounds.
Sometimes Fitzsimmons’ desire to recreate the layered pop constructions of his latest record had him dipping into the synth well, and it worked during the moments it was called upon, like on the sing-along “Lions.” When a synthesizer couldn’t help him, Fitzsimmons turned to a friend, local singer Abby Gundersen, who joined him on stage for several songs.
Gundersen’s voice was especially effective as harmony on “Blood/Chest,” as she helped reveal deeper layers of Fitzsimmons’ already vulnerable tenor. Another new song, “Fortune,” became a tender moment of just voice and guitar, as it was stripped of the driving urgency found on the studio version.
Even though a 14-song set closed with “You Broke My Heart” would have left most Fitzsimmons fans sated, he seemed reluctant to let the Triple Door staff start tearing down the room in time for the late show and stuck around for two more songs, “I Don’t Feel You” and a cover of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.”
“Far away from your trouble and worry,” Fitzsimmons sang as he stood gathered at the edge of the stage with his band, “you belong somewhere you feel free.”
It was a nice sentiment from a guy who didn’t seem nearly as miserable as his music might suggest.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails