No Bird Sing CD-release with Kill the Vultures and Kristoff Krane
April 29, 2011
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
No Bird Sing have always been big on collaboration, but that spirit of togetherness was off the charts on Friday night as the group invited a wide array of friends to the stage to take part in an emotionally charged, raw, and cathartic performance.
By the time openers Kristoff Krane and Kill the Vultures had wrapped up their sets, a sizable standing-only crowd had congregated in front of the Cedar's stage. No Bird Sing filed out and immediately launched into tracks off their new album, Theft of the Commons
, including the record's first single, "Afterlife Insurance." With drummer Graham O'Brien set up on the right side of the stage and guitarist Robert Mulrennan way on the left, it gave MC Eric Blair plenty of space to roam the stage, something he took advantage of fully. At times he would bound around the stage while he rapped, while at others he would drop to his knees or lay down completely, as if the intensity of the music was too much for him to bear.
It was clear from the onset of No Bird Sing's performance that this night would be special. Peter Pisano of Peter Wolf Crier spent the first half of the set pressed up to the side of the stage, mouthing along with every word, while Krane and Kill the Vultures' Crescent Moon looked on like proud siblings. It shouldn't have been that surprising, then, when Blair started inviting friends up to the stage to join in the performance, but what happened next packed an emotional punch that few saw coming.
Blair started by asking Chastity Brown to come to the stage to sing on "Plastic Lines," a song from No Bird Sing's debut album that normally features Alicia Wiley. While Wiley's dusky, onerous voice made a nice backdrop for Blair's slow and somber rapping on the record, Brown's soulful wailing took the song to a whole other level live, and the aching beauty of Brown and Blair's voices commingling was enough to put a lump in my throat.
With the mood still sober, Blair asked a handful of musicians to file onto the stage, including Krane, Moon, Pisano, bassist Casey O'Brien, and Kathy Averill, the mother of late rapper Micheal Larsen, who was a dear friend to many of the musicians on stage. Blair gave a short speech about his friend, at one point stopping to choke back tears, and explained that he didn't want to force the audience to do a moment of silence -- he just wanted everyone to go with their gut and do whatever felt right, something he said he learned from Larsen. Part of the audience cheered while others stood silent, and many bowed their heads to wipe tears from their cheeks; it was a very intense moment, and it seemed to bond the entire room together and push the evening forward to the next phase of the performance. After a pause, the group launched into a freestyle jam. Blair traded off verses with Moon and Krane in a cyclical, almost hypnotic fashion, each picking up where the previous one had left off, and Krane still welling up with tears.
The mood came back up for the end of the set, as NBS pulled out a couple of their most familiar tracks -- "Devil Trombones" and "Ars Poetica" -- and Blair lept off the stage and into the audience for a rousing dance party that almost resembled moshing.
"That was an emotional roller coaster!" my friend said at the end of the show. Indeed it was.
For more on Friday night's release party, admire Erik Hess's photo essay below.
Crescent Moon, a.k.a. Alexei Moon Casselle of Kill the Vultures (and Roma di Luna) warms up the crowd
DJ Anatomy and Crescent Moon of Kill the Vultures
Eric Blair, a.k.a. Joe Horton toward the beginning of No Bird Sing's set
Robert Mulrennan of No Bird Sing
More photos of No Bird Sing and friends on page 2.
Graham O'Brien of No Bird Sing
Eric Blair takes a break from rapping by laying down on stage. "I almost fell asleep down there," he jokes.
With drummer Graham O'Brien's kit set up to the right of the stage, it gave Blair plenty of room to prowl around the stage.
Peter Pisano of Peter Wolf Crier (right) sat in for a few of the more collaborative songs during No Bird Sing's set
Crescent Moon and Kristoff Krane return to the stage for a freestyle jam session
Eric Blair takes a knee as the MCs freestyle
Blair takes it into the crowd for the final song. "That's the first circle pit I've ever seen at the Cedar!" an onlooker exclaims.