all words and photos by: Francis Chung
“It takes a lot of nerve to destroy this wondrous earth,” sang Phil Moore during Bowerbirds’ quiet storm of a performance at the Rock & Roll Hotel on Saturday night. Indeed, the concert by the ecologically-impassioned indie-folk band provided a perfect musical bookend to a week that kicked off with The Flaming Lips headlining the Earth Day festival on The Mall last Sunday. Led by Moore and his partner, Beth Tacular, Bowerbirds played a captivating hour-long set of music that frequently evoked the beauty and mystery of nature not only lyrically, but also through a rich, rustic sound that combined traditional Appalachian aesthetics with more contemporary “freak-folk” tendencies. During songs such as “Hooves” and “In Our Talons,” Moore strummed plaintively on his acoustic guitar, while Tacular alternated between accordion and keyboard, with the couple often combining (along with the bassist and drummer) on gorgeous vocal harmonies. Along with selections from their 2007 album, Hymns for a Dark Horse, the Raleigh, NC-based group also unveiled several promising new songs from their forthcoming album, Upper Air (set for a July release on Dead Oceans Records). In contrast to Bowerbirds’ previous appearance at the Rock & Roll Hotel (opening for Bon Iver), the audience listened with rapt attention, staying quiet until the end, when fans shouted out requests and offered to buy the band shots before they closed their set with a sublime rendition of “Bur Oak.”
Birdlips opened the concert with an enjoyable set of retro-sounding folk-rock tunes including “Tire Chains” and “Tracks on Repeat.” Their set was followed by a strong performance by Bell, a buzzworthy electro-pop group from Brooklyn. Backed ably by Jason Nazary on drums and laptop, Olga Bell (a classically-trained pianist) conjured a panoply of electronic sounds on her keyboard, keytar, and MacBook while displaying a dynamically melodic vocal style that has understandably drawn frequent comparisons to Bjork’s. Intricate, multi-layered songs like “Echinacea” and “Housefire” were ethereal at times, explosive at others, but consistently marked Bell as a talented up-and-comer on the indie-music scene.