Almost precisely two months has passed since the last time I visited Vicar Street so I can only assume that a decision was made in the interim to make regular, booming announcements around the building urging the public to step right up, step right up and see the incredible musical talents of Brown Bird and the infamous Low Anthem, but don’t forget to stop at the bar and drink, drink, drink! The overwhelming feeling that we were riding the bumper cars at Funderland was in the starkest of contrasts with the respectfully quiet atmosphere in the venue. Though the show was moved from Whelan’s due to demand, the larger venue was only about two-thirds full (with the balcony closed off) but this contributed to the reverential silence during the performance during which I believe you could hear someone in the crowd shifting their weight from one leg to the other such was the stillness in the air.
The band, complete with recent addition Dan Lefkowitz, began their set with the kind of songs that warranted such appreciation with tracks like “To The Ghosts Who Write History Books” and the majestic “Charlie Darwin” from their 2009 album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. The much-lauded album is an exercise in diversity with the band swinging from the aforementioned tracks of slow, sweet, folk tunes to the raucous blues rock of the roadside-bar band that occasionally threatens to burst out of them onstage. Front man Ben Knox Miller explains early on that they will be playing three types of songs – ones from their most recent album, old American folk songs and new songs they’ve been working on. The reality is that the show is all about the three different voices that Miller possesses and utilizes to perfection at times.
Versatility is the cornerstone of the night’s performance as Miller jumps from incredible, high-pitched sweet tones to a monstrous growl while each member of the quartet tries their hand at an unending array of instruments. Even the seasoned gig-goers in the crowd that thought they had seen enough multi-instrumentalist bands in their time will have been impressed by the delicate use of clarinets, horns and trumpets not to mention the bowed musical saw and crotales. The audience were even invited to use their phones to call the person beside them and place the handsets against each other while set on speakerphone, helping to create an impressive backing track of robotic-sounding cricket chirps. With the aid of support act, Brown Bird, the whole band bellowed out a few more songs reminiscent of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack to help close out a set that was as rapturously received as it was attentively enjoyed.
Photos by Damien McGlynn.