Bowerbirds Ottobar Concert Review

At the beginning of the month the Bowerbirds and Basia Bulat came to Baltimore to play a show at the Ottobar. Previous to this concert I was unfamiliar with the work of Basia Bulat, but was taken by her stage presence and arsenal of instruments. Her weaponry included the charango, the autoharp, and the guitar in additional to her powerful voice. The highlight of her solo performance was a Polish song entitled In the Green Zoo. However, this song is not one of her own, it was a hit in the 1960's in communist Poland. She sang the lyrics in the original Polish and with a little explanation before the performance the audience was in tune the song's story in spite the language barrier. It was a beautiful and unique performance. Her stage demeanor was inviting and personal, and drawing from this, her final performance was done without the aid of a microphone and also featured her foot percussion – another of Basia's many hidden talents. Basia Bulet is a unique talent, one I would very much enjoy seeing and hearing from again. Baltimore loved you, please come back. A live recording of Basia Bulet featuring In the Green Zoo can be heard via NPR here, and her studio work is available via itunes.

The Bowerbirds set was composed primarily of material from their latest album The Clearing. They opened the set with the song Brave World which prominently features a Bob Dylan quote from the classic, With God On Our Side. Their use of this quote is a compelling parallel since the lyrical content of each song is of a similar theme. The set continued with In The Garden, Walk the Furrows, and then an older song from the trio entitled Crooked. 

A side note from this concert was that this performance was the group's first night out with a new stage set up. Instead of spending the concert jumping between instruments after each song, the Bowerbirds traded up for a couple of synth sets to cover the complimentary parts. Nevertheless, this being the first night out did come with a few kinks. The group struggled with cable malfunctions and a few other technical difficulties. In spite of that, they played it off and ended up furthering the concert's intimacy because the audience got to see the Bowerbirds as humans, and not just musicians on stage.

This Year was far and away the high point of the concert. The song is perhaps the most radio friendly of the new record, and the audience at the Ottobar knew it too. The song's refrain is nothing short of infectious and in a smaller venue like this the performance spoke with maximum effect. Additionally, one of the most engaging facets of the concert was the drum work of Yan Westerlund. One quality of a truly exceptional pop drummer is that you don't leave the concert admiring his drum work, but rather, you think to yourself that the band sounded great. This work can be easy to miss since he is providing the rhythmic and textual framework for each song without demanding your ears complete attention, but his subtleties and the breadth of his pallet were truly inspiring to watch. Furthermore, he performed as if he was simply a man at work – which I really admired. He executed exquisitely without ever drawing attention to the heavy lifting the man in the back of the stage was doing.

Bowerbirds: This Year

The Bowerbirds concert was a tour of the newest album with stops along the way at some new and unreleased material as well as a few classics. The trio is incredibly hard working and this tour continues clear through August. Check out their webpage for the complete tour dates as well as purchase links to the tickets at the stop nearest you. Speaking of new material, the group released a new video this week for their song Sweet Moment. Check it out below. As always, you can also find the group via their webpagetwitter, and facebook. We dig the Bowerbirds and you should too.

Dave

Dave (@DaveWhoDigs) digs musicianship, theory, and music that goes with craft beer. He writes about music from a classically trained musician’s perspective. He’s currently based in Portland OR.