(Note: this is a live review, not a CD review. Buy the CD anyway...)
I had the opportunity to indulge in my ever-so-grating-and-patronizing tendency of forcing bands so new they’re practically foetal onto my friends the other week when Bowerbirds came to London. After spending a few months asking everyone, ‘oh, do you know Bowerbirds?’, I finally dragged one of them kicking and screaming to the English leg of their European tour promoting their new album, ‘Upper Air.’ Although he really shouldn’t have resisted: we were treated to a magical evening of musical lore and delight.
Bowerbirds are a folk band. Folk is cool. More to the point, Bowerbirds are a very good folk band. They are beautiful in every sense of the word. Their first album, ‘Hymns for a Dark Horse,’ is strung with warm nostalgia for some Bonfire dance or Summer after-party in a luscious forest. Phil Moore sings with an understated wisdom, lacing his bitterly saccharine voice around pointed observations on the intricacy of love. Beth Tacular’s backing underpins the lore of the ‘Hymns’ with a painful allure, made brilliant with the twang of their guitars and the swathed accordian. Their new album, ‘Upper Air’ is a similar branch on the Bowerbirds’ tree, superbly forming the foundations of what I hope will be a lasting musical legacy.
As with every band I like, I walked into the gig with a terse apprehension. What if they weren’t that great? What if the magic I heard in private didn’t translate in the live arena? The venue itself was so achingly cool it was almost hilarious. There were far too many men wandering about with unnatural looking scraggy beards, checked shirts from East End vintage shops and shiny brown dress shoes. They were the crowd so frequently derided in The Mighty Boosh; I had the impression that if the bearded Phil Moore came out wearing a dirty boiler suit, everyone at their next gig would attend sporting dirtier boiler suits. However, it was a crowd that was more concerned with maintaining their quiffs and keeping the stub of their ticket as proof of their attendance than with actually listening to the music. This guaranteed me a spot at the front of the stage, within touching distance of the band. Hooray!
After vaguely dancing to the support act - I can’t remember their name, but the lead singer looked like a constipated horse and they weren’t that great- I thought that was going to be my quota of dance for the night fulfilled. However, one of the many pleasant surprises of seeing Bowerbirds live was actually noticing their drum for the first time, justifying the cracking out of my awesome moves on the unwitting bar-cum-dance floor for my evening. They opened with ‘Hooves,’ which proved to be a fan favourite. I could see at least three other people singing along to Moore’s declaration that, “you’re the kindling still that burns below my heart, and you’re the hooves that lead me through the forest.” Other stand-out tracks were ‘In Our Talons’, a song that my friend described as folky-polka done good, the rousing ‘Teeth’ and ‘Beneath Your Tree,’ which melted the audience with its opening lines, “I could bleed, bleed, bleed for days but my heart would still beat for you dear,” sung without accompaniment leaving Moore’s voice electrifyingly naked.
They sung as if the bonfire I always envisage them dancing around was there in spirit. They performed as intimately as if they were at a gathering in a bohemian loft at 4AM, soothing their closest friends to sleep. The greatest tragedy of the night was the audience itself. I didn’t have to fight for my place at the front of the stage. My friend even walked to the bar half way through and came back without any hassle. It was a frustratingly muted crowd, one that I hope will grow more voracious as the word of Bowerbirds’ arrival at the top of the nu-folk scene spreads. Hopefully one day I’ll ask someone, ‘oh, do you know Bowerbirds?’ and they’ll say, “why yes, of course!” because the very talented and brilliant Bowerbirds deserve acknowledgment. I bought a T-Shirt at the end of the night from Beth Tacular, she gave me a hug and wished me a good night. Thanks to Bowerbirds, I had one.