Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Bowerbirds, Sharon van Etten soar at Iron Horse

By Ashley Berger

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On a rainy October night, the Iron Horse in Northampton welcomed musical acts Bowerbirds and opener Sharon van Etten. Both performances encompassed the essence of hippie-indie-folk rock.

Van Etten opened the show with songs from her album “Because I Was in Love.” Clad in a grey shirt, jeans, and boots, a flaming red guitar was her only accompaniment during the set. After her second song, she made her first interaction with the crowd, telling the audience of flannel-clad Valley-ites that, “Every time I get done with a song I reward myself with a sip of beer.”

The audience was very receptive to this up-and-coming artist, whose music is based on the common motifs of love and heartbreak. The Brooklyn-based van Etten’s voice is both light and sweet, but also employs an edgy tone in her more angry songs. She played a great rendition of her piece “Consolation Prize,” about not being second best to anyone.

Van Etten’s appeal came from her simplicity. She defines the “girl-with-a-guitar” ideal. The songwriter looked so completely comfortable on stage strumming and singing that one could almost picture her sitting on her bed, playing her guitar in her own world.

Van Etten was very excited to play with Bowerbirds, and made sure to thank the audience. For her last tune, the audience encouraged her to sing a cappella. The purely vocal track was arguably the best of the entire show. Her lofty yet fierce voice, as well as her girly but simple appearance all came together in a very positive way for the song.

After van Etten finished her performance, Bowerbirds took to the stage. As expected, they brought along some guest musicians to accompany them: on violin, Rachel Rollins and on the drums, John Lesterman.

The five-part group showed an extreme amount of versatility, as each member played more than one instrument at various points in the set, and each member helped back up lead singer Phil Moore.

Opening with a rather slow song, the Birds showed off their  big sound. The mixture and variety of violin, xylophone, accordion, acoustic guitar, bass drum,  keyboard, and drum set blended surprisingly well. The combination did not deter in the least the soothing medley of Beth Tacular and Moore’s voices.

One of the most important instruments was Tacular herself. With a girlish and chilling voice, she entranced the audience with her range and style. Her high pitches offset Moore’s deep rasp, and give each song a ghostly, dreamlike feeling. Armed with her accordion, which she taught herself to play, she added a jazzy flair to the indie-rock sound of the Bowerbirds. When she got into a song, Tacular did a little dance and kept all eyes focused on her.

The Birds played about an hour and a half long set, consisting of songs off of both “Hymns for a Dark Horse” and “Upper Air.” Some of the set list included “Teeth,” “Northern Lights,” “Crooked Lust,” and crowd-pleaser “House of Diamonds.” A highlight was a new song that the Birds played. When an audience member asked them what the name of the song was, songstress Beth Tacular replied, “We don’t know. Make one up.”

The Iron Horse provides a very intimate setting for any show, and is certainly a forum conducive to bands interacting with the audience. Bowerbirds briefly paused between songs to ask what cool things there were to see in the area and to remark about, coming from North Carolina, how cold it already is here in the Northeast. The band was also very gracious when talking about their opener. Tacular said “We wish she would move to where we live. It’s good for you guys that she lives up here though.”

The audience was comprised of mostly college-aged students, and a fair amount of couples, and they certainly made sure to encourage an encore performance.

The Birds were very fan-friendly, stopping after the show to hang out while people came up to talk to them. In a brief question session with Tacular, she said that “My favorite songs to play are usually the new ones, but tonight I really like ‘Crooked Lust.’ I didn’t like it when we first started playing it, but now I think it’s really great.”

Tacular continued to say that she is very inspired by nature and the beauty within nature.

“Despite all the hardships that people endure everyday, the earth is still a beautiful place,” Tacular said. “Our songs are enjoying that beauty and wanting to talk about that beauty. Music is just a fun way in which to express yourself. It’s a release of emotions.”

Ashley Berger can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Bowerbirds, Sharon van Etten soar at Iron Horse”

  1. Rick Haggerty on October 17th, 2010 11:17 pm

    Very nice review. I did not see the show, but your article was very personal with quotes of the artists, yet very strong with specifics about the venue, which I love, and the audience. Thanks!

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