Since the release of their debut LP Hymns for a Dark Horse
back in 2007, Bowerbirds have slowly and quietly emerged as one of the finest bands the American music scene has to offer. With singer Philip Moore’s hushed vocals and the band’s melding of gentle folk with Beach Boy-worthy harmonies , the group has more than earned their place along such folk-rock luminaries as Fleet Foxes and The Avett Brothers (and, in several ways, surpassed them) .
Their third album The Clearing
finds the band in top form, trading in their more stripped-down production for lusher instrumentation and a broadened sound palate. Likewise, if their performance last Sunday at the Earl is any indication, the Raleigh, North Carolina-based folkies have also found their perfect on-stage groove.
Hoping onto the stage, the band launched into The Clearing
cut “This Year.” Just as on their albums, the band favored gradual emotional builds as opposed to bombastic climaxes. Typically, a song would start with a simple guitar or piano noodling and the band would slowly augment the song with a wide range of instruments—from smooth cellos to the glorious chiming of a triangle. The effect was nothing short of mesmerizing.
The night’s major highlight came with a performance of “Tuck the Darkness In”—The Clearing
’s opening track. Crooning above drummer Matt Damron’s emotive poundings and some truly beauteous harmonies , Moore managed to make the lyrics “oh my dear friend / Everything falls to death” sound positively anthemic.
While the set naturally drew heavily from their recent album, other standouts included “In Our Talons” from Hymns for a Dark Horse
and “Crooked Lust” from their second album Upper Air
Throughout the night, Moore kept the momentum going, alternating between quiet emotional intensity and “aw shucks” humility. Looking out at the audience, he frequently praised the audience for making them feel welcome. He even seemed genuinely surprised that so many people would bother to show up on a Sunday.
“What is this place like on Tuesday?” he wondered aloud.
Band co-founder Beth Tacular, by contrast, kept a mostly stern demeanor. Whether this is her natural stage presence or the result of going through an extensive U.S. tour (the Atlanta show marked the band’s last American show before they head off to Europe) remains a mystery to me. In any case, the raven-haired beauty never faltered in her playing, moving effortlessly between piano, guitar and accordion. Plus, she graciously signed my vinyl copy after the show, so I highly doubt she was in much of a bad mood.
In contrast to the clichéd, “show stopping” encore number, the set’s final song “Overcome by Light” served as the concert’s quietest moments. Sung with the solemnity and breathless beauty of a church hymn, the song acted as a fitting close to a band whose music often borders on the spiritual.
Between of Montreal at Variety Playhouse and Cursive the previous Sunday, I’ve certainly been to louder and more theatrical shows this year. This was the first, however, where I often found myself completely forgetting I was attending a concert. I simply sat back and let the music wash over me.
Such is the power of Bowerbirds. Know it. Respect it.
— Contact Mark Rozeman.