Birds of Chicago/Peter Mulvey, The Constitutional Club (Lewes, UK April 11th 2013)
Birds of Chicago is a collective brought together under the guiding hands of J T Nero (J T & the Clouds) and Allison Russell (Po’ Girl). Tonight the four piece ensemble was made up of our two protagonists accompanied by guitarist Peter Mulvey (Redbird) and drummer Will Langhorn.
Peter Mulvey, in addition to being in the band, opened the evening with a six-song set. He’s a seasoned performer in his own right, a masterful storyteller, accomplished guitarist and has a whole collection of critically acclaimed albums to his name. No stranger to these shores having toured previously in Redbird (with Jeffrey Foucault, Kris Delmhorst and David Goodrich) he was making a welcome return visit to Lewes. Although his set was only thirty minutes long, he captivated the room and had everyone laughing at his tales of a stoned squirrel, his father’s particular turn of phrase (a $40 haircut on a 19 cent head!) and after suggesting that that he was going to finish with a happy song launched into Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad (and Faraway From Home). I loved a new song he played Trempeleau and hope that next time he visits it is as a headliner!
And then it was the turn of Birds of Chicago – they commenced with a J T & the Clouds song Nobody Wants to be Alone, Nobody Wants to Die with Nero taking the lead. His rasping vocal delivery on this powerful opener grabbed everyone’s attention. He and Russell started Birds of Chicago as a side project but it seems to have really taken on a life of its own. Their Kickstarter funded self-titled album has been garnering good reviews and the audience was keenly anticipating hearing tracks from said album. They were not disappointed. Highlights included Galaxy Ballroom in waltz time and written by Nero for his grandparents – I should mention that Russell said that they would give a prize to the couple who dared to dance to the song and a pair of brave souls did exactly that, attracting generous applause; Sans Souci whose Cajun inflected tones were sung in French by Russell, she wrote it as she started to get to know her (paternal) Grenadian family; Sugar Dumplin’ a lively upbeat number and Trampoline, the lead track from the album, a friendship song.
The voices of Nero and Russell combine well together and it is easy to see why the album has ridden high in the EuroAmericana charts. The combination of his somewhat cracked vocals with her jazz inflected singing style produce a sound that turns seamlessly from soul to country to pop to blues to roots. You can’t categorise their music because it draws upon so many different genres and the only way to experience the impact in full is in a live show.
Generously they gave the stage over to Mulvey during their set, he performed Kids In The Square a song written about a well-known landmark in Boston. MA. They received requests for The Moonglow/The Tapeworm and although they had tried it out the night before, it wasn’t fair on Mulvey and Langhorn who hadn’t learnt the song but true to Russell’s desire to please, she said that they would perform it after the show for the people making the requests.
Finishing the night with a Po’ Girl song ‘Til Its Gone whose lyrics – ‘God bless this beautiful morning ’til it’s gone / God bless this beautiful morning ’til it’s gone / How I’m gonna feel when it goes, I don’t know / But that’s another song’ – suggest that there is more to come, another day and that’s only to be welcomed. Jela Webb