Paper Bird, These United States, Dovekins Thursday, December 31, 2009 hi-dive Better than: Going to a New Year's concert that didn't feature kazoos and Jefferson Airplane covers.
It was easy to overlook the elements of chaos that marked Paper Bird's New Year's set at the hi-dive Thursday night. The headliners went onstage about thirty-minutes before the onset of 2010, and as midnight approached, the band's set stalled for sound checks and to allow for guest musicians to clamber onstage with the band. The sheer volume of the audience also slowed the group's progress, as the sound engineers had to make adjustments for the considerable crowd noise of the sold-out room.
There was no formal countdown before the arrival of the New Year. Instead, the band took a long delay between songs as balloons fell from ceiling at around 12:01. Cries of "Happy New Year!" rung out at different times from the milling crowd.In the end, the chaos didn't detract from the fun of the show. Instead, the frenetic feel of the main act seemed to go along with manic mood of the holiday. It was the informal feel of a grand house party, of a celebration of the New Year with close friends.
The feel came in large part from the obvious presence of Paper Bird fans in attendance. Even with the minor sound issues, the audience remained supportive, singing along at overwhelming volumes and crowd surfing on the arms of the hi-dive's capacity crowd. And even with the multiple delays and the frenzied feel of the house, Paper Bird, along with the two opening acts, offered a fittingly festive soundtrack for the occasion.
The celebratory chaos that was in full force by the time Paper Bird took to the stage had room to build up. The Dovekins served as an ideal opening act for Paper Bird both in terms of sound and energy, blending folk cues from a wide range of idioms and traditions and, in the process, offered a sound that seemed new. The similarities to Paper Bird's sound were further underscored when Esme Patterson, Sarah Anderson and Genny Patterson of Paper Bird joined the Dovekins for several tunes. With their innovative blend of warm instrumentation, organic sound effects and unorthodox time signatures, the Dovekins' seamlessly mixed Eastern European rhythms and South American textures with the feel of an old-timey American camp meeting.
Songs like "Honduras" drew on organic sounds such as coordinated finger snaps, finger pops from the mouth and hand claps, as well as the band's rich combination of stand-up bass, banjo, acoustic guitar, kazoos, drums and trombone. Vocalists Griff Snyder and Laura Goldhamer topped off the ambitious menu of sounds with an infectiously energetic lyrical delivery.
While the Dovekins' use of traditional bluegrass and world music cues previewed similar sounds in Paper Bird's set, These United States offered a more straightforward, pop-rock feel. Even as J. Tom Hnatow's pedal steel guitar provided some folk contours, the Washington D.C. and Kentucky-based band's delivery of songs like "Everything Touches Everything" and "The Important Thing" drew more on alt-rock structures and sounds. The shift in genres didn't lessen the enthusiasm of the growing crowd, and it didn't stop lead singer and guitarist Jessie Elliott from inviting the ladies from Paper Bird on stage again to help out with some of the final songs of the set.
The guest spots by the Paper Bird ladies in both of the opening sets served as warm up for the band's headlining spot. By the time the full band started its set, the crowd had already gotten a preview of the group's distinctive vocal approach.The continuity helped make up for the somewhat disjointed feel of the first part of Paper Bird's set. Even with the pauses to correct the sound, and even as the group took a few minutes to welcome members of the Dovekins and These United States onstage before midnight, the audience remained engaged.
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Indeed, the sound of the crowd singing along for tunes from the EP A Sky Underground overwhelmed the sound of trio of vocalists at times. Macon Terry's driving bass, Caleb Summeril's suggestive banjo and Paul DeHaven's bluegrass-infused guitar lines remained audible throughout the set, but the crowd's frenzied sing-alongs detracted from the group's distinctive vocals.
The participation came during originals and covers alike - in addition to songs like "Lullaby" and "Colorado," Paper Bird also offered covers of well-known tunes like the Beatles' "Baby You're a Rich Man" and Jefferson Airplanes' "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love." Even with the noise issues, the group soldiered on. The septet drew on the considerable vocal force of lead singers to overcome the din of crowd, and after corrections to the soundboard, provided a folksy and fun set.
In the end, the slight sound lapses and delays in performance seemed a natural part of a New Year's celebration. Just as the largely intoxicated crowd took breaks to hug well-wishers and indulge in a New Year's kiss, the band took moments to acknowledge the crowd and wish them well for 2010.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: The Dovekins' experiments with non-traditional time signatures and Eastern European beats was especially engaging for me. Random Detail: Band members from all three groups sported creative face makeup for the show. By the Way: The crowd passed around a pineapple for These United States' set, a prop that lead singer Justin Craig took up and showed off to the crowd.