Bowerbirds give heartfelt performance at the Varsity


Raleigh, North Carolina's Bowerbirds certainly couldn't have been any more pleased with their surroundings at the Varsity Theater on Tuesday night, with a large contingent of friends and family of the band in attendance (including Justin Vernon and Sean Carey of Bon Iver, and lead singer Phil Moore's sister), as well as a venue and sound system that the band sang the praises of all evening. All of these virtues added up to one splendid performance by the band, who made up for what they lacked in discord by instead crafting music filled with an understated elegance and a timely sense of restraint, which gives their songs an added depth and significance.

Bouncing from their customary three-piece set up (with Beth Tacular on accordion and keys and Dan Westerlund on drums), to a four-piece (with Will Hackney from Lost In The Trees joining them on mandolin), the band performed songs from both their records over the course of their 70-minute set, leaning heavily on 2009's excellent Upper Air. The songs seemed more robust when the band swelled to a four piece, with Hackney proving to be a strong but subdued addition to the band's sound.

But the real beauty and potency of Bowerbirds' music lies in Moore's earnest lyrics and his rich, sonorous vocals, which elevate the often sparse, simple arrangements to an original and affecting level. And the pristine sound of the Varsity complemented their stirring, soaring songs perfectly, with "Silver Clouds," "Dark Horse," Northern Lights" and "Crooked Lust" really standing out amidst a set filled with moving moments. Their sole encore, "Bright Future" was a bit of an anticlimax after the stellar main set, but still didn't do anything to diminish the alluring atmosphere of the night. The band's strength truly lies in their subtlety, with melodies often just an afterthought to mood, and those considerable talents were on full display last evening during their gorgeous, heartfelt performance.

Brooklyn's Sharon Van Etten opened the night with a solo performance that was daring and impassioned. While her songs tended to sound too similar towards the end of the set due to her unvaried pacing and vocal tone (which evokes Aimee Mann at times), if she takes some more inventive chances with her music in the future, we're bound to hear more good things from her.