No Bird Sing headlines an impeccable lineup at the Turf

Categories: Concert Review
Photo by Ben Clark
Bethany Larson
With a music scene as dense as ours, there's opportunities to catch great local music on pretty much any night of the week, but it's rare that a lineup of four groups of varying backgrounds and styles can deliver a concert so consistently engaging and high-caliber as the one that took place Friday night at the Turf Club. Case in point: Not once in the evening did I even check to see if the downstairs bar was open let alone seek it out as a resting place as I so often do at Turf shows, and it was out of fear of missing even a minute of what was happening upstairs.

I had seen many of the bands on the bill before, save for one -- the promising new country-influenced folk singer Bethany Larson, who was releasing her first EP at Friday night's show. Listening to her debut CD, Sticks and Stones, before the show, I had already pegged her as a fairly mellow, almost precious singer-songwriter, but in the live setting her music blossomed into something with a slightly harder edge that was ultimately much more intriguing. Her band built on her simple folk songs with dirty slide guitar flourishes and rustling, galloping snare drums, and Larson herself seemed to open up more on stage and push her voice further than in the studio. At softer points her grace recalled Channy Moon Caselle of Roma di Luna, but during louder and more upbeat numbers she came closer to sounding like a young Lucinda Williams, adding a bit of snarl to hard-luck stories like "But I Love Him."

Photo by Ben Clark
Peter Wolf Crier
Next up was Peter Wolf Crier, a duo I had seen perform a few times previously but who had yet to sound as tight as Friday's set; much like lead singer Peter Pisano's previous band, the Wars of 1812, it seems that his biggest challenge is living up to the grand expectations laid out on his recorded works. Peter Wolf Crier's debut album, Inter-Be, is a finely woven tapestry of lo-fi indie folk that features Pisano experimenting with falsetto and vocal looping, and with each live show he seems to get closer to pulling off the magic of Inter-Be live.

Aby Wolf is another musician who seems to change her live show every time I see her, and lately she seems to be moving further and further away from the folk roots of her debut, Sweet Prudence, and toward something more experimental and jazz-influenced. Friday's set was no exception -- she started with a few songs off her album, but then veered into a set of new material and cover songs that relied heavily on her masterful, operatic voice and her loop pedal. Unfortunately, many in the bar seemed to have trouble focusing on the intricuate nuances of Wolf's set and talked loudly over the majority of her performance, but she was able to command the attention of the room with her cover of Bjork's "Unravel."

Aby Wolf sings "Unravel" by Bjork from Andrea Swensson on Vimeo.

At first blush, No Bird Sing seemed like the oddballs on Friday night's bill -- the three openers were mostly folky fare -- but they seemed to pick up on the tone of the evening by playing an intense set of low-key, loose instrumental hip hop. No Bird Sing are, by nature, and unconventional hip-hop act, with no bass guitar and no DJ, and in the live setting they push the limits of traditional hip-hop by veering into something that more closely resembles spoken word poetry recited over sparse jazz arrangements.

Photo by Ben Clark
No Bird Sing
The evening ended with a mashup of a few of the musicians present at the show, as No Bird Sing's MC Eric Blair invited Pisano, local MC Kristoff Krane, and another MC I didn't recognize to the stage for a collaborative freestyle that sounded far more rehearsed than it actually was -- another testament to the high levels of talent coursing through the walls of the Turf Club on this particular Friday evening.

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