Live: Bowerbirds Light Up Bowery Ballroom


Bowerbirds w/ Dry The River
Bowery Ballroom
Friday, March 23

Better than: A Pink Floyd laser show.

When I walked into Bowery Ballroom late Friday night, I did not expect to be stepping into an iTunes visualizer. Alas, Bowerbirds have incorporated a verifiable light show—complete with Merriweather Post Pavilion‘s cover-esque mosaics—into their live show. It fits the band’s folk-but-not-quite aesthetic almost too perfectly; the music seemed to move its way through the empty dark spaces as if it was designed for the lights and not the other way around. Of course, that is not to say that the music was not top-notch: the band has always been a champion live act (this is my third time seeing them), and adding songs from this year’s beautiful The Clearing did not hurt in the slightest.

The new album sounds, frankly, wonderful live; beautiful guitars, cellos, and keys are woven together before the drum punches you in the mouth like a baby puppy, full of love and disregard. No song best encapsulates this harmony like The Clearing’s first single, “In The Yard”: over a thumping bass drum, the track feels like the first thaw as multi-instrumentalist Beth Tacular takes the mic to soothe those listening. Her voice has a calm quality about it, melding with the music rather than trying to overcome it. At times, it seemed like she’d be almost drowned out, but the music was reeled in right in time, allowing her to shine.

The highlight of the band, however, is lead singer Philip Moore. Long-haired and friendly, the tall frontman emoted his way through the entire set, combining a natural affability with a powerful folk voice in a way that seemed to hypnotize those of us who were close enough to see his every movement. Running through most of The Clearing, he showed an impressive comfort with songs not even a year old; even more impressive was his ability to wow even the most diehard Bowerbirds fans with old classics like “Chimes,” “House of Diamonds,” or, of course, “Northern Lights.” The rest of the band were no slouches, to be fair; cellos and violins and accordions made appearances, and the previously mentioned drums were a secret weapon of sorts, popping a lot more than on record. It made for a wonderful night, where the sounds matched the sights beat for beat.

Openers Dry The River brought their more-rock-than-folk to the table and almost upstaged the headliners. Perhaps it is their British charm, or perhaps it is their tendency to jam out with no regard for whatever acoustic show the audience came to see, but the London outfit turned up the volume, matching their tattooed-and-sleeveless look to the music. (The lead singer sported a rad AC/DC shirt.) Of course, being a “folk” band, they had four-part harmonies and an acoustic-led ballad that would make even Fleet Foxes reach for the tissue box. It was an impressive showing for a band that looks to be headlining their own sold out shows soon enough.

Critical bias: I find myself singing the beginning of “In The Yard” at points throughout the day… and I like it.

Overheard: “Northern Lights! NORTHERN LIGHTS!”—drunk bro. This may be the cranky music writer in me, but stop this. Seriously. Someone will always shout out a request for the most famous song a band has, as if they’re going to forget to play it.

Random notebook dump: “Avoid all Bowerbirds/Bowery Ballroom name references, Luis.” Well done, me.