We here at the 405 have long established our borderline obsession with North Carolina's Bowerbirds. We’ve been fortunate enough to run in the past few months a lovely interview with singer and multi-instrumentalist Beth Tacular, as well as a glowing review of their newest record The Clearing. Now, all this is said to illustrate that I might have gone into their show Friday night with a bit of bias.

Another charming North Carolina band Mandolin Orangeput together a lovely start to the night. Unfortunate name aside, this three piece band played somewhere in the middle ground between A.A. Bondy, Nick Drake, and a more country inflected sound and to great effect.

Mandolin orange

Up next were longtime friends of Bowerbirds, London’s Dry The River. Though their folk rock sound is a road well traveled, at least in a live setting the band seemed to shine. Peter Liddle’s lilting vocals and the alternately crushing and stately mix of tunes brought out a pretty incredible crowd reaction for an opener. Even those near me who seemed at first unfamiliar with the band were by the end converts to their sound. Much of the set seemed drawn from their just released debut LP. Despite uncomfortable comparisons to Mumford and Sons, this band seems one to watch, even in the overcrowded folk world.


It’s probably a weird time to be admitting that indie-folk generally isn’t my favorite genre in the world, but though each of the openers planted themselves well within the confines of the genre, each of them did so exceedingly well making for pleasant sets nonetheless.


Knowing the studio output of Bowerbirds, it would be quite easy to expect that their live show would resemble the folkiness of their two opening acts, but that certainly was not the case. In that aforementioned interview, Tacular stated that they “don’t consider [themselves] to be folk musicians anymore.” Though one could be skeptical given the overall tone of The Clearing, in the live setting the distinction becomes clear. The scope of the arrangements is brought out. Bouncing basslines are brought to the forefront. Synthesizers abound. Though the trademark vocal harmonies are there, they don’t seem so much the focus or the point of the music, at least in the same way they do on record. Live, this is a band with energy, a band with bounce, one that’s not afraid to dump a fuzzy guitar solo on top of what is on record a more plaintive number. They're consistently mixing it up in their live set, almost to the point that--like Tacular suggests-- the band doesn’t seem to fit well within the strict definitions of the folk genre.


Though the crowd seemed most familiar and most involved throughout the set with the cuts drawn from 2009’s Upper Air, it was the new material that shined the brightest. Opening with a few deep cuts from the new record, 'This Year' and 'In The Yard', it was clear that the band would be into something special that night. Moore’s a special sort of songwriter, like Phil Elverum of the Microphones and Mount Eerie, that doesn’t really infuse his songs with incredibly personal lyrical detail, instead painting swaths of universalities. And it’s this sort of lyrical theme that made the night seem right. There’s something about a crowd full of people intoning the phrase “I’m overcome with light” that can’t be matched by any other experience.


So yes, as of Friday night we’ve confirmed that Bowerbirds are just as astounding in a live setting as on record. The songs are refreshingly changed up in a live context emphasizing the the complexities of the tunes, and it’s hard to imagine how this show could’ve been any better. If they come to your town, see them. It’s as simple as that, and they’re that good.

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