Out last night to catch Birds & Arrows playing the middle set on a three band bill; Andrea was nice enough to put me on the list and the 506 was nice enough to (accidentally, I think) leave two tiny white lights on during the sets, mitigating the red-and-pink of the usual scheme and neutralizing the blue a little, which was all great. (The 506’s new rig means it’s no longer a black hole, but sometimes it’s still too red. STILL. >:() Birds & Arrows are Andrea (guitar) and Pete (drums) Connolly — they share lead vocal duties — and Josh Starmer (cello), and every time I see them, I’m a little more enamoured with their sound. They self-released their debut album late last year and I think it got a little buried by bigger names and longer anticipated releases in the local scene, but it’s a stellar indie-folk-pop record in a quiet, understated way. I listen to it a lot at late at night when I’m lonely, and it always makes me a little sad but also a little less lonely. That’s the sort of album it is. It’s great.
One of the things that the album doesn’t always showcase for me, though, is Andrea’s voice; she has one of those powerful voices that doesn’t necessarily get used to full potential in a recording studio, but when they’re playing live with the electric guitar wailing and Josh’s cello rounding out the deeper end of their sound, she can belt it out with the best of them, and that’s some of my favorite moments in seeing them live. (She absolutely killed it covering Petty a few weeks ago at the Dylan/Petty Haiti Benefit, which gives you a sense of what she can do when she has the room to let loose.) Which is to say, they sounded absolutely spectacular last night; they ran through a mix of album cuts, new material, and a Genesis cover that worked shockingly well. The album does feature some of Josh’s playing but I’m glad to see him playing out with them so regularly, because it feels as though they’ve shifted from a two-piece to a three-piece, and I think the mournful sound of the cello compliments the Connollys’ songwriting.
I love them, and I’m glad I got to see them last night. They’re working on a lot of new material and after the show, Andrea made some noises about a split EP or 7″ release with someone else local for 2010, so I’m crossing my fingers.
Mandolin Orange is a fiddle-and-guitar (and sometimes guitar-and-mandolin or guitar-and-guitar) duo playing Americana that catches directly closer to the Appalachia bluegrass tradition than a lot of the Americana I listen to does, and who gave me a very Buddy Holly vintage pop feel (if not sound) beyond that; this is music of now, but it’s also very clearly music of then, all the way “then” back to the 1930s in their cover of “Hiawatha’s Lullaby”. They’re one of those bands that litters the Triangle, who feel as though they sprang up fully formed like Athena; I had never heard of them two months ago, and a month ago they were suddenly everywhere. There’s some unpolished elements to their stage show — fiddler Emily Frantz seemed a little unsure of herself in front of the took-two-Ambien-placid Chapel Hill crowd — but their sound is great and I’m looking forward to their debut album. And guitarist/mandolin player Andrew Marlin told banjo jokes between songs, which I’m always in favor of.
“What should you do if a banjo player falls overboard? Throw him his banjo.”
I didn’t stick around for headliner Lucky — the current project of Katherine Whalen, who I think is best known outside the Triangle for her work in Squirrel Nut Zippers — because I have a weird gross sinus plague thing happening this week and I have felt and sounded crappy all week, and I went home and took NyQuil and passed out instead, but I’m sorry I missed them (not sorry I slept, though). I’ve heard nothing but good things about their swing-Americana-ska-indie-rock blend, Katherine’s got such a remarkable voice, and someday, someday I shall catch them.
That day wasn’t yesterday, though, and I’m still exhausted despite going home early like an old person last night.