Prior to Saturday’s show at Syracuse’s Westcott Theater on October 29th, more than a few friends asked me, “what kind of music do Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds play?” Not one that prefers to pigeon-hole such a multi-talented band, I answered, “the good kind.” The band proved me correct, as the good kind covered a wide range from soul to blues, from rock to funk, from New Orleans to Memphis, from Motown to Muscle Shoals. In mere minutes, the Birds were sonically soaring and the crowd, both die-hard fans and first-time listeners, were hip-shaking their way to a memorable evening for all.
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds have built a well-deserved loyal group of followers, dubbed “Party Fowl,” through frequent touring and high energy stage shows. The band’s return to the Westcott Theater marked their fifth Syracuse appearance in the last two years, and they ramped up their party reputation by playing in full Halloween regalia. The group was decked out as a chili pepper, pirate, pharaoh, banana, space cowboy, Zorro, and a nun the likes of which I never saw in my elementary school days.
Frontwoman Arleigh Kincheloe led the way, shimmying, sashaying, and practically skipping across the stage, seemingly incapable of standing still. She did manage to do so for an extended period, during her gorgeous rendition of an as yet unreleased song, “Matter of Time.” That song was a beautiful counterpoint just before the band segued from “Prison Cells” into a breakneck tempo version of the Ghostbusters theme. They followed that with a tease of the Addams Family theme during “Boogie Man.”
This is a polished group that clearly has fun playing music together and melds many different styles to form their sound, even paying tribute to Edvard Grieg’s moody “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” as the intro to “Who are You?” The rhythm section of Dan Boyden on drums and Josh Myers, in a pimptastic silver jumpsuit with ski goggles and a cowboy hat, kept the beat and bottom end steady. That allowed Jackson Kincheloe to exhibit his prolific harmonica skills, Sasha Brown to add savage guitar riffs, and Phil Rodriguez and Brian Graham to round out the sound with the punch of a brass section, on trumpet and saxophone, respectively. All of which formed a platform for Sister Sparrow’s powerful vocals and charismatic stage presence.
Sadly, this was one of the last five performances for the talented and entertaining Brown with the band, who announced last week that he will be leaving to explore other opportunities. The septet’s latest release, the live album Fowl Play, was released in March of 2016.
The evening began with a pair of forty-five minute sets from local musicians. Amanda Rogers opened the night with her own songs performed solo, on piano. Rogers selected tunes at whim from a songbook resting atop her keyboard. Her classical training shone through, with interesting chord changes setting the mood to her songs, and melodic runs showcasing her skills.
Following Rogers was Castle Creek, the performing entity fronted by Kim Monroe. This night, a shoeless Monroe played acoustic guitar in a four-piece outfit, accompanied by Nate Mansfield on acoustic guitar, John Jones on electric bass, and the ubiquitous Phil Leone on cajón box drum. Her own easy-listening songs with hints of blues music were mixed with popular covers including “Another Brick in the Wall,” and “Come Together.”
Prior to their encore, Arleigh Kincheloe turned to the Dirty Birds and said, “Okay. Let’s hit it hard.” The band counted off and tore into an explosive cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Any remaining non-believers in the congregation were converted. Following their last note, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds readily chatted with familiar faces, and fans both old and new, adding dozens of listeners to the Party Fowl flock, ready for the band to fly high once again.
Set list – Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, Westcott Theater, Syracuse, NY 10/29/2016
Don’t Be Jealous
Make It Rain
Catch Me If You Can
We Need a Love
Matter of Time
Prison Cells > Ghostbusters Theme
Boogie Man (with Addams Family Theme tease)
Who Are You?
Millie Mae > Feel Like Funkin’ It Up (Rebirth Brass Band cover)
Encore: Rock and Roll (Led Zeppelin cover)