Friday nights at the Brooklyn Bowl typically carry a heightened sense of expectation for a combination of sights and sounds that so reliably induce ecstasy. And the New York City-based funky soul-rock ensemble Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds made Friday, March 4, one to remember.
The early crowd was welcomed onto the dance floor by the Suitcase Junket, a one-man band performing original songs on a junkyard guitar and an arrangement of foot-operated percussion instruments, including a circular saw blade. The dedication that went into perfecting such rich and yet simple instrumentation rang through clear, and the set ended with strong crowd participation on the refrain of “Wherever I Wake Up.”
Follow-up act Wild Adriatic could perhaps be likened to Upstate New York’s version of the Black Keys. Their musical territory, that of the hard-rock trio, is well trodden, but they inhabit it with purity of intention, as if there is no one to compete with. Frontman Travis Gray led the band through a set of speaker-frying blues and pop-rock driven by big, hot riffs and punctuated with psychedelic solos that shone with the emotion of personal soliloquies. Rich Derbyshire’s boxing-glove basslines bounced and jabbed all over drummer Maceo Vosganian’s pounding beats. Gray expressed thanks to the headliner and acknowledged Sister Sparrow’s common upstate heritage, giving a sense of cohesion and solidarity to the evening’s lineup.
The Dirty Birds began to unleash something fierce with their uptempo opener “We Need A Love.” From the get-go, the band projected a swagger that spoke of power, growth and change. In the most mundane sense, the band has changed its personnel with the recent addition of drummer Dan Boyden and the departure of founding trombonist Ryan Snow. But Sister Sparrow and her crew are evolving in a more profound sense that is impeccably documented on the live double-LP Fowl Play and showcased unadulterated at this Brooklyn Bowl gig, which also functioned as the release party for the aforementioned album. The past two years have seen this band undertake an exercise in the live recreation of a classic rock masterpiece (Led Zeppelin’s IV performed at Irving Plaza in January 2014) and a cycle of songwriting that resulted in their third studio effort The Weather Below, released last year, plus more songs debuted live since that release. The focus now seems to be on upping the ante in the live sphere. Hence the decision to drop a live disc at this juncture.
The experience at Brooklyn Bowl last Friday night must have been similar in terms of energy and execution to the Fairfield, CT, New Year’s Eve shows that were captured on Fowl Play just two months ago. At the Bowl, the Birds were dishing out cuts from their latest studio record, playing other newer songs to boot, and sounding more musically in command of their older material than ever. Elements of improvisation hitherto unseen from this band were present throughout the handful of tunes that have been in heavy rotation over the past few years. In staples like “Don’t Be Jealous,” “Sugar” and “Mama Knows,” songwriter and vocalist Arleigh Kincheloe impressively varied the melodic inflections and rhythmic delivery of her compositions; she added an unprecedented new layer of nuanced personal expression to these tunes, which already resonate as autobiographical and sincerely heartfelt. Also present were new extended passages showcasing the band’s instrumental soloists and pushing the songs to the 10-minute mark.
If you have ever been excited about Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds in the past (and many New Yorkers rightfully have been by now), now is the time to get even more excited. Ever the relentless touring band, the Sparrow and crew will make their way across the country between now and mid-April, delivering refined rock prowess to their loyal party fowl and hopefully reaching new ears at every show.