Show Review: Bowerbirds in Atlanta, GA

Listening in Season: Bowerbirds at The Earl

In certain culinary spheres, there is no small amount of emphasis placed on timely consumption. Food grows in particular months for particular reasons – an ultimately emblematic (at the very least) display of the shift and cyclical nature of the environment and its relationship to us. And on a clear Sunday night, as Raleigh, North Carolina’s Bowerbirds began their set on the dark stage of The EARL, with a burnished nylon-stringed guitar and a mini-string section, they seemed to provide a fitting aural analogue to this idea: a show entirely too appropriate for a cold spring night, music for the time being.

Let’s be clear right here at the beginning. Bowerbirds recently released third album, The Clearing, stands in sharp contrast to its sparsely ruminating, almost solely acoustic forebears Hymns for a Dark Horse and Upper Air. This is due mostly to instrumentation (i.e. there are electric guitars on it, in addition to strings and atmospheric keyboards). Also, its writing is more immersive and vast, its tone more diverse, its lyrics farther reaching. Naturally, their set consisted primarily of this new material punctuated by the occasional old song (Hooves, In Your Talons, House of Diamonds) just to assure the audience that they are still capable of being still and plaintive.

Reassuringly, those old songs retain their glistening opacity and fado-like lilt, but their textural and aching simplicity belies the bigger picture – Bowerbirds sound dangerously close to becoming a rock band. Chalk it up to the sinuous and inventive drumming of Yan Westerlund or the bristling counterpoint of the new material but, at times, on songs like This Year and Brave World and Hush, the final product draws more parallels to, say, the unclassifiable soundscapes of Tortoise and propulsive/pristine chaos of Shearwater than the immaculate folk of Alela Diane or Diane Cluck.

If you are finding yourself able to form the assumption that this band has shifted their focus somewhat, you’d be correct in this. There were guitar solos, keyboard ostinatos, moments of glorious sparking noise and, again, the drumming, which I really cannot stress the quality of enough. It is well-struck, churning and propulsive, a massively elegant addition to the new expanded lineup. Yes, Bowerbirds have changed. However, only the most obstinate fans of Hymns for… should be concerned with this, the new tunes and their live execution were wondrous, filling the dark corners of The EARL with a boisterous and much appreciated warmth. The audience (surprisingly good for a Sunday night) almost immediately called for an encore, hoping for one more song, one more emboldened statement, before walking back out into the darkness.

Bowerbirds – “This Year” (Dead Oceans 10,000 Takes Session)