I missed Des Ark (Aimee Argote), the first act last night at the Bowery Ballroom (10/12), but I did arrive in time to catch nearly all of Death Vessel's. I'm hard-pressed to think of an artist whose name is more misleading than Death Vessel. Far from being emo or hardcore, Joel Thibodeau (the man behind Death Vessel), is more likely to sweep you off your feet than to launch a vicious aural attack on your soul.
With his waist-length hair, earnest presentation, and warm demeanor, Thibodeau seemed a bit out of place last night in such a large room, but the Sub Pop artist made it work. His set-up was simple - so simple, in fact that he arrived to the city by Megabus. For his performance, Thibodeau required just an acoustic guitar... and his surprisingly high voice.
Though the audience was courteous for the most part, the chatter emanating from the back of the room became a bit distracting toward the end of the set. (Apparently, Thibodeau hadn't cast his spell back far enough.) Sensing that he had lost part of the audience, he quickly responded by picking up the pace of his next song. Of course, as he later joked, his range was fairly limited - it was only a matter of choosing between 'quiet and quieter' songs.
Of course, a quiet act is a pretty appropriate opener for Bowerbirds. Going into the show, I admit I was a bit worried we'd be in for a stripped down set. But despite the misleading picture on the Bowery Presents website (which depicted just Phil Moore and Beth Tacular), I was relieved to see five people walk on stage. The group has at least temporarily grown to include Rachel Rollins on violin and Dan "Yan" Westerlund on drums in addition to multi-instrumentalist Mark Paulsen (who has toured with Bowerbirds in the past).
The set got off to a bit of a rough start. There were some technical problems in the first two songs (or "little monsters" as guitarist/lead vocalist Phil Moore affectionately called them), but then the issues resolved. If anything, the early set backs rallied the audience to Bowerbirds' side. The band had to re-start their second song (La Denigracion), but numerous people called out encouragements from the floor.
Though the band has traditionally projected a rich, well-rounded sound, it was even more full-bodied last night with the additional musicians. The homemade marimba was a nice surprise, and the violin(s) sounded fantastic.
After a few songs, Rollins spoke out. "We love coming to New York and playing at this beautiful place that has our namesake." (Bowerbirds, Bowery Ballroom... someone had to say it).
All in all, it was a lovely evening - if a bit sleepy at times. In addition to playing songs from their first two albums, Bowerbirds also showcased a couple of new ones (one so new that it is still untitled). Rollins and Moore's vocals were spot-on as always, and the audience seemed engrossed in the music. Like their openers, Bowerbirds may have been more suited for a smaller, more intimate setting, but they embraced what they had (it was their namesake, after all). For much of their final song ("My Oldest Memory"), they even dared to forsake the mics, which seemed to make the size of the room shrink - if only for a few moments.
The 5-piece Bowerbirds have a few dates left on their tour. Their Bower-setlist with a few more pictures from the show, below...
Bowerbirds Setlist (asterisks denote new songs)
Beneath Your Tree
*untitled new song
In Our Talons
House of Diamonds
My Oldest Memory