Bowerbirds with Strand of Oaks and Khingfisher @ The Biltmore Cabaret – October 29th 2012


Two bros playing solitaire with Iron-Man, Jesus, and his family on a space-station; on the Disney Channel.

That about sums up some of the more bizarre aspects of the evening. I got to the Biltmore at around 8:45 and it was fairly dead as a door nail, having maybe 30 people inside at the time. My friend Joey made it there just a teense after me, and a handful of others showed up for the opening act, which wasn’t what I thought it’d be. When the fellow’d said his name, I heard something akin to “Keith Richards”, which seemed to be an odd choice. By the end of the concert though, Bowerbirds had thanked everyone for showing up and I found out that it was Khingfisher that had opened the night. At first it was just the one guy playing guitar and singing, but by the third song another fella joined on guitar and vocals, with a female vocalist completing the trio by the fourth. Their songs were slow and dreamy, and reminded me of an intro to a Grizzly Bear song; though it didn’t take off from there (which isn’t a bad thing). They played around 7 or 8 songs on a couple beautiful hollow-body electric guitars, with a few covers including ‘You are my Sunshine’ and ‘They Call the Wind Mariah’. It was a fairly short but sweet set; they have a nice sound, but aren’t necessarily something I’d want to listen to an awful lot unless there was more change in sound between songs.

Another surprise hit when Strand of Oaks went up to play. For having several albums, and being listed on a big ol’ poster, I was expecting a whole band; instead it turned out to be just one man, Timothy Showalter. He switched between electric guitar and keyboard to play his (fitting in with the general theme), soft and slow songs, though some turned out to be pretty powerful as he really got into it. His set was a bit longer, and he got about 10 songs out; and while the songs were fairly well played, the lyrics and thoughts behind some of the songs were a bit odd, even for me. With rough and most likely jumbled memory, one line stated “You, me, and Jesus make a family”, which made me cock my head to the side with a questionable gaze. Another song was about a space-station, and I believe he had said another had something to do with the Pope. Like I say, he seemed to be a decent musician but I may not necessarily recommend unless you’re feeling particularly risqué with your music taste.

Bowerbirds took the stage as a four-piece that evening; Phil Moore on guitar and vocals, Beth Tacular on keys/synth, accordion at times, and vocals as well, Leah Gibson on the cello, and Yan Westerlund on drums. Though the band is generally Phil Moore, Beth Tacular and a third member who was missing this evening (unless somehow I completely missed his existence), Mark Paulson, more members were in for touring to develop a richer sound. They started with ‘House of Diamonds’ from Upper Air, their second album, a nice, soft way to start things off. I’d never heard the new album, The Clearing, so when they played ‘Brave World’, ‘This Year’, and ‘Stitch the Hem’, it was interesting to hear a different kind of sound from the band. The songs had more of an electric sound but seemed to keep the spirit and emotion of the previous albums. The album seems like it’s a bit more polished than Upper Air, and definitely far more electronic sounding than Hymns for a Dark Horse, while still being able to convey the same sort of feeling. Safe to say, I enjoyed the new songs.

A big downside though, was that there seemed to be quite a few issues with the sound, and the band didn’t seem to be making the connection they needed to with the sound guy to get the levels they wanted. This lead to some pacing issues, but they seemed to work themselves out after about the 4th or 5th song. The issues didn’t ruin anything, but there were certainly times when I noticed that things sounded off.

Though the timing for things to be fixed, or at least compromisingly fixed was perfect, as they next played ‘In Our Talons’ and ‘Hooves’ from Hymns for a Dark Horse, which were exactly what I’d come to hear. The harmonies and the sound and rhythm of ‘In Our Talons’ always get me, and Phil Moore’s vocals on ‘Hooves’ are dark, sad, and beautiful. ‘Crooked Lust’ has some great finger-picking, and a great guitar line that sounds even better when backed by the richness of the cello, lilting accordion, and Yan Westerlund’s brilliant drumming. The next song they played wasn’t actually a Bowerbirds song but rather, a song from a side project, which was comprised of the members on stage. I’m somewhat confused though as the name “Island Dweller” was mentioned, which I took as being the side project’s name but when I look on my trusty reliable friend Google, I find that most people took that as the song name. So maybe I’m wrong?

‘The Ticonderoga’ is another song from Hymns for a Dark Horse, which continues to be my favourite album because I love the sound of it ever so much. I just can’t do anything but love whenever that accordion comes out. ‘Beneath Your Tree’ is has a heavy guitar line that sets the pace and drives the song, with the cello and accordion filling in the blanks all too well. It’s one of my favourite songs off Upper Air, and it features Beth Tacular’s voice, bright and melodic. ‘Dark Horse’, as one might assume, is a fairly important track name when your album is called Hymns for a Dark Horse. It has a disjointed sound if you pick the sounds apart, but when it comes together it all makes sense. Beth Tacular introduced ‘In the Yard’ from the new album, The Clearing, and from the sounds of it, it seemed to be a particularly important song to her. It was probably the song that best highlighted her voice that night, which I really appreciated, as she’s got some great pipes that can easily leave you feeling warm inside. They finished off with ‘Northern Lights’ from Upper Air, and ‘Tuck The Darkness In’ (which had lots of beautiful harmonizing) from The Clearing, a couple of soft and slow songs to finish off their set with.

Encore time hit with ‘Walk the Furrows’ and ‘Teeth’ which brought the pace up and then back down to end things off with a very pleasing set. ‘Teeth’ has a near-sultry sound to it, and was a great way to end off the night.

Overall, the openers were interesting (for a variety of reasons), but I didn’t find them to be especially exciting myself, and while there were sound issues at the beginning, over-all, Bowerbirds played a good set. I was really happy with the songs they played from Hymns for a Dark Horse, as it’s the sound I love most from the band, and it was a new introduction to the new album. Bowerbirds can have an absolutely beautiful sound, so if you have a chance to, go out and see them.

Photos © Pat Valade

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