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Live Review and Photos: Bowerbirds, April 7, 2012, Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA

Photos by Philip Cosores

It’s not exactly the most revealing of realisations, but watching Bowerbirds play on Saturday night really emphasized to me how much having great musical chemistry between two people can enhance their personal connection, and vice versa. The break up and subsequent make-up between Bowerbirds’ co-leaders Philip Moore and Beth Tacular is an underlying theme in their fantastic new album The Clearing, and watching them play onstage this connection seemed to add more to their performance. They seemed so connected with each other that it made me think that when things had become tough between them, if they had stopped fighting verbally, and decided to have a conversation through instruments instead, the whole break up could have been avoided. Nevertheless, love always finds a way, and now the band is back together and all the stronger for it.

Opening band, Dry The River, also have a similar kind of connection, but as a friends-as-close-as-brothers way. The word has obviously spread about the London five-piece as the venue was fairly packed throughout their set. The five guys’ scruffy, unkempt appearance perfectly suited their bombastic folk style, and as they sung it was easy to imagine them as a pack of wandering nomads that like to go on dangerous adventures and then write songs of celebration to commemorate their triumphs. They have the loud-quiet dynamic down pat, and although the bursts of energy that generally herald the arrival of another grand chorus are the obvious peaks in their set, the true highlight came at the quietest moment of all when the guys stepped back from their microphones and sang a cappella in perfect harmony. The crowd was rapt with attention and you could have heard a pin drop at that point – a notable feat for an up and coming opening act from across the pond.

Bowerbirds decided to subvert the norm with the opening of their set, opting not to play a new song, nor a loud one, opting to go with “Hooves,” the quiet opening track from their debut album Hymns For A Dark Horse. Now, I admire the attempt, but unfortunately it didn’t quite work as there was plenty of chatter and the fragility of the song was somewhat dulled by this – it seems the band had to earn the quiet from the audience, as Dry The River had. On the other hand, those die-hard fans down the front probably blocked out all sounds except for those coming from the stage.

The show really got going a few songs in when Beth Tacular set her accordion aside and took up a new position behind the keyboard in order to play some new songs. The combination of “Walk The Furrows” and “Tuck The Darkness In” switched on anyone in the audience whose attention may have been lacking and for the rest of the set Bowerbirds gave them plenty of reasons for their attention to remain focused on them. Another new song, “Hush,” goes down as the best of the night in this writer’s humble opinion, as it saw the band starting off with the most plain of instrument combinations (violin and cello omitted), but with one of the most tricky-sounding arrangements, including a break down that saw four of the five members playing some sort of percussion. Plenty of these songs seemed to hold even more emotional weight in the live setting, so “This Year” made a nice, somewhat-lighthearted change of pace, but with songs as good as the regal “Chimes” on show, no complaints could be had that Bowerbirds’ set tended more towards the slow and mid-paced numbers.

As the beautiful dying notes of “Now We Hurry On” faded away it seemed like Bowerbirds had drawn the perfect line under their night’s performance, and if they had ended there everybody would have been satisfied. However, the band returned to perform a couple more; “Northern Lights,” which saw audience members mouthing along the words silently, and ultimately “Overcome With Light,” the most delicate song of the night, which was met with the crisp silence from the audience that they had undoubtedly earned with their performance. They seized the opportunity by the horns, and by the time we were leaving the venue not a single person could be said to have been unimpressed.

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