In a little performance bar, hidden away in a fairly quiet part of the city, American new-folk band Bowerbirds played to a few dozen appreciative Montrealers on June 19. It was one of the last stops, and the only Canadian one, on their 2012 tour of Europe and North America.
The venue, Il Motore, was charming and comfortable but looked hastily put together. Christmas lights were strung from the ceiling and chairs were scarce. However, this did nothing to detract from the performance, as the lack of seating was forgotten soon after the show began.
Deserving more than a passing mention was the opening act, Sarah Neufeld, who played solo on the violin. Her music was suited to her fairy-like appearance, though the depth and complexity that she drew from her instrument, and the passion with which she played was surprising. Everyone, the Bowerbirds included, was impressed.
The band members themselves seemed very natural and comfortable on-stage and off, mingling with the crowd before and after their performance, and even selling their own merchandise (which was blessedly affordable). On the other hand, the crowd was quiet but very polite, swaying peaceably along to the band’s trademark melancholy folk sound. Light, airy guitar, velvety drums and crisp vocals transported the audience to a forest-like utopia, where they were free to get utterly lost in the music.
About halfway through the show, the group surprised the audience with what they described as a ‘protest song.’ It was uncharacteristically angry, but fitting with the Bowerbirds’ common themes of respect and appreciation for the environment. Despite the change in tone, they managed to pull it off without being preachy or artless.
There was a collective sound of disappointment when the band’s lead singer and guitarist, Philip Moore, declared that the next song would be their last for the evening. The plan was thwarted by the audience’s polite but insistent applause. Three more songs were played, including a cover of Canadian artist Doug Paisley’s “No One but You.” Surprisingly enough, this set did not include what is arguably the Bowerbirds’ most popular tune, “In Our Talons.” Instead, they opted to play tracks from their latest album, The Clearing, released this past March.
All in all, the show was just what one would expect from the Bowerbirds; warm, laid-back, intimate, and laced with little surprises to top it all off.