Live Review: Bowerbirds
 at Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh
, 10/30/2009

BowerbirdsPhoto by _nickd

Sneaky Pete’s really isn’t a venue where people should be casually sitting down on the floor to enjoy the music. As Edinburgh’s rising new venue, with a varied host of both promising and established bands, the attendance rate is often high to maximum making from even more cramped conditions if people decided to feel more at home in this tiny venue.

But when those in front rows decided to put ass to floor it was all too easy to follow their actions because, you know, standing can be a rather tiring and numbing activity at gigs. And in fairness the music of opening band Eagleowl, is probably best taken in a more relaxing position. The songs are uncomplicated and deliberately set at a slightly meandering pace but never boring as one might expect from such descriptive qualities. Songs had slight yet subtle rhythms that took you in but never trapped you as hazy vocals are occasionally sung. It’s a simple set up with just a double bass and a guitar that seeped the audience into their listening proclivities for the night.

I was only expecting Eagleowl tonight so I have to admit that Dry the River came and started with a surprise – I thought they were just roadies. But surprises are always welcome by myself and this quartet from down south proved a most jaunty and pleasant one. With twinkling glockenspiel and catchy melodies, comparisons to the likes of Noah And the Whale found their way to mind but as their set progressed I felt desired to throw this out. The overall sound is fuller and satisfying taking cues from recent Americana folk with drums that often scurried and were more than easy to tap your foot to. Recent cuts from their latest EP The Chambers & The Valves sounded complete and likable due to a smiling eagerness the band seemed to have.

Bowerbirds have been rightfully riding on the continued momentum latest album Upper Air has brought them. Though perhaps not as solid as their debut it had more than enough moments to entrance the listener along with continuing to act on the strengths the band had already made clear. Then, perhaps, seeing them live is the hat trick an avid fan needs to complete the fondness they will most likely have already mustered up through repeated playing of their songs and the friendly familiarity that is the result of doing so.

But as charming as the music is from them, Bowerbirds do have their deeper and darker side. Tonight it came with oddly stark yet non-deliberate emphasis on their ecological awareness that seeps into their lyrics. For some odd reason lines such as “It takes a lot of nerve to destroy this wondrous earth/ We’re only human; this at least we’ve learned” and the perhaps more subtle and subjective “show me all that you sacrificed” resonated in the increasingly hot and congested venue. I guess it goes to show that despite a sense of familiarity, things can still take on a different meaning from simply putting yourself in a new environment with them.

The material tonight leaned more on work from the latest album but the audience seemed happy with everything they were served from the pleasant tumble of “Northern Lights” to the thoughtful pace of “Hooves.” Up close it become clear also how intricate the melodies are as Phil Moore plucks as it his guitar, so expertly but so casually. Beth’s accordion did however lose the deep sound it captured on record but this but a minor qualm that could just be a technical fault. The only other real criticisms I could have put to their set was that it felt all too swift and also that it was disappointing for “Ghost Life” to not make an appearance for its bopping melodious chorus would have surely been a crowd pleaser, getting more than a few to sing along most likely. But really this was just Bowerbirds confirming something I already knew, that they are a commendable band who deserve to be still riding the waterfall of praise they created through their own doing. And I’m more than happy to have this confirmed to me again, whether it is just listening to their albums again or taking the chance to see them live.