The New Year's Eve traditions on display at the Oriental Theater went beyond the noisemakers and the balloons. For the second year in a row, Paper Bird shared the bill with Dovekins to ring in the new year. The young but promising musical tradition paired two complementary outfits, bands that seemed to feed off each other's energy and enthusiasm. The inclusion this year of Pee Pee only added to the larger sense of musical continuity, as the three groups offered a rich palette of sounds with a common, folksy base.
DJs Blindside and M1000 offered a driving, ambient background soundtrack as the crowd filed in. Pee Pee's opening set started after 9 p.m., and the octet quickly set a celebratory, if chaotic, mood. The outfit reveled in performance-art antics and sound experiments that often proved dissonant. Female bandmembers emerged dressed as mustachioed men, while lead singer Doo Crowder and the rest of the Pee Pee men wore dresses and gowns.
While much of Pee Pee's set seemed more like pure experimentation and performance art, the outfit offered some affecting moments. Crowder didn't want for any earnestness in his high-powered strumming, and the group's combination of flute, violin, cello and expanded percussion was downright lush. The high point of Pee Pee's set came in its performance of "Jaroline," which had the crowd in front singing and dancing along. Lines like "My heart is a forest growing out of control/Your heart is a goldfish swimming round in a bowl" also stood out from the sometimes dissonant experimentation.
Dovekins followed at around 11 p.m., taking a good stretch of time to finish a sound check. The efforts paid off in a full and well-balanced mix, one that let the band's diverse array of instrumentation stand out.
The band offered a wide selection of tunes from its 2010 release Assemble the Aviary, tunes that seamlessly fused accordion, acoustic guitar, mandolin, flute and banjo. With imaginative time signatures and melodies that hinted at everything from klezmer to gypsy jazz, the group offered a set that was dizzying in scope and captivating in richness.
Laura Goldhamer's frenzied, frenetic vocals and banjo work on "No Ability," for example, had the entire audience snapping along with odd rhythmic breaks and unpredictable turns of tempo. The contagious energy during the band's performance of "The Dalles," which featured guest vocals from Paper Bird's Genny Patterson, was a high point of the night. Rather than an opening band, Dovekins came off more as a co-headliner as a result of the memorable performance.
Before launching into its trademark rich harmonies and rootsy string work, Paper Bird counted down the New Year soon after taking the stage around midnight. The concerted countdown was much more seamless than last year, when random counts and cries of "Happy New Year!" broke out in the cramped confines of the hi-dive.
Paper Bird then launched into tunes from the 2010 release When the River Took Flight, songs like "Steady As" and "Yellow Sun." After the high-octane energy of the Dovekins set and the dissonant experimentation of Pee Pee, the group's rootsy blend of strings and voices was almost calming, sending the capacity crowd into paired waltzes and synchronized swaying. Songs like "Colorado" inspired massive sing-alongs from the audience, a feature that made the rootsy sounds seems all the more authentic.
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In the end, the shift from the hi-dive to the Oriental Theater for this year's celebration made for a better show. The more spacious venue offered plenty of room for the dense crowd in front of the stage and the more casual revelers hanging near the back of the room and in the balcony.
Whereas last year's concert sometimes suffered from a claustrophobic feel, Friday's show offered plenty of space. Concert-goers celebrating the holiday ranged from the manic to the understated; while bouncers kicked out a heavy drinker who walked along the rail of the balcony, most of the attendees seemed happy to dance in place or cheer along from the front of the room.
Considering the show was the largest at the Oriental since the theater changed owners earlier this year, the second New Year's show for Paper Bird and Dovekins was even more of a success.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I was thoroughly wowed by Dovekins during last year's show and enamored of the band's subsequent twelve-track release, so I made a point of staying near the front of the stage for the entire set. Random Detail: Pee Pee offered a chaotic, loose cover of Eric Clapton's "After Midnight." By the Way: The Oriental's new owners, Absolutely Huge Entertainment, have done a fine job so far. The show went off without a hitch, despite the crowd of about 700 and the chaotic nature of the holiday.