When you get to the Living Room on Ludlow Street 12 minutes before a scheduled 7 p.m. set by local noir-pop outfit Shivaree, what you find are not a lot of people in the audience, but quite a few people onstage. “Ted, you’re not playing guitar tonight, right?” someone asks, while someone else wonders if this is a brand-new amp. There are guys fondling all kinds of instruments: guitars, accordion, bass clarinet, an organ that may or may not live at the Living Room. Ambrosia Parsley, the singer in Shivaree who most people assume is named Shivaree, is sitting at a small table in front of the stage, writing on a piece of paper, sipping from a mug of tea, looking pretty much exactly like Parker Posey. You’re worried no one’s gonna show up, which will be awkward, since it’s just you and Rufus Wainwright’s violinist watching.
“How’ve you guys been doing ‘Lost in a Dream’?” asks guitarist Chris Maxwell, who’s in a chair on the floor. “Are you gonna sit there?” Duke McVinnie, another guitarist, replies. “I’ll go up there later,” Maxwell clarifies, “make it look more official.” Eventually Parsley steps onstage and, not worrying about making it look more official, leads the group, now numbering seven, into a casual warm-up of “Lost in a Dream,” a tune from Who’s Got Trouble?, the album Shivaree will release in January. The song’s about “looking for some sunshine and some clover and a cloud to rest my head upon,” and Shivaree do it beautifully; Parsley’s bandmates manage the rare trick of making the music sound like it’s not being played—just tiny waves of electric-guitar moan and funky little reed curlicues wafting incidentally around Parsley’s voice, which swirls right down to the song’s whimsical dark-chocolate bottom.
“Ambrosia, can everybody come in now?” the bartender shouts when they’re finished sound-checking. She pulls back a velvet curtain at 7:15 and 80 people wander in, ready for Shivaree’s gig. You’re relieved folks showed up, but you’re bummed, too: Parsley performs for them; for you she caught some music in a bottle.