Clearly, most of the crowd at Schubas Monday night (May 4) was there to hear Bowerbirds play songs from their 2007 album Hymns for a Dark Horse. But the crowd was in for a couple of nice surprises: an excellent opening band (La Strada) and a whole batch of new songs by Bowerbirds. As it happens, I have an advance copy of the new Bowerbirds album, Upper Air, which comes out July 7 on the Dead Oceans label, and I’ve been listening to it quite a bit. It’s a really nice record, a more-than-worthy follow-up to that debut record, which garnered some attention two years ago.
The new and old songs all sounded lovely, with Phil Moore plucking and strumming a classical guitar most of the night, giving the songs that particular sound you can only get with nylon strings. Moore’s gentle voice lofted the melodies all night, with a solid assist on harmony vocals from Beth Tacular, whose accordion notes fleshed out the arrangements. The touring drummer and bassist also added some subtle layers to the sound. I got the feeling that the crowd liked the new songs, though it was obvious that people responded a bit more to some of the songs they recognized, such as “Bur Oak.”
I wonder how many of the people at Schubas knew anything about the opening band, La Strada, or had heard any of their songs before? I suspect that the group, which has just an EP out at this point, was new to most of the audience, but the applause was enthusiastic. A few people even called out for an encore when the set was over. This band played orchestral pop with smart string arrangements featuring cello and violin, plus accordion on about half the songs. La Strada reminded me a bit of the Decemberists, without feeling quite as pretentious as that band can sometimes get. It was pretty and catchy music, played with a lot of spirit. I’m a convert. I bought La Strada’s self-titled EP at the merch table, and it’s sounding good.