La Blogothèque
Concerts à emporter
#90

Bowerbirds

Let’s call it serendipity. We make lists of bands we’re interested in, we schedule shootings, we say no to some requests or suggestions. For some of them, we have to go through tons of different people, and for others we discuss it and, next thing we know, it’s done. (Or we mess it up completely, like that day when Björk was sun-tanning near a swimming pool and she ran away). During this process, some people disappear, in spite of all the affection we have for them. This is what happened to the Bowerbirds, authors of beautiful folk songs, originally dug from Said The Gramophone. They disappeared from our to-do-list without us really noticing, then came back on it through the smallest doorway: a canceled shoot, Sean Moeller’s praise, and a performance that very same evening at Knitting Factory. Vincent Moon was so staggered that, once their show was over, he immediately talked the band into wandering in New York streets the next day. The old-school manner, just like it used to happen at the beginning of the Take Away Shows.

Instead of streets, they got started in a candy shop amidst a jumble of colorful plastic wrappers. Phil Moore’s beard softly hovered above this scene as he pitched his song to us as if it were nothing. Listen to him carefully. He doesn’t speak loudly, neither does he whisper; he doesn’t control anything, but still, he stands out. He lets the vowels drawl. He’s telling a story. When he talks about mountains, we can picture them perfectly above us, even from where we stand, among the sugar. When his two sidekicks join him, they harmonize with each other and tell a story about a bad fall and scraped knees. We touch our kneecaps to reassure ourselves.

And there’s also this huge drum. One could think it’s only a gimmick. Just a simple accessory. But look at it carefully: it is huge, completely irrelevant, out of proportion. But it’s being played very gently, softly, with the touch of a fastidious craftsman who knows that everything depends on the detail. The sound is broad, complex, and subtle, as it should be.

Then, we only see the streets through the windows of a car. In a passageway you’d think would be too narrow, all the more because our friend the giant drum was still there. You and me, we would be cramped. But Phil and his guitar, Beth and her drum, Mark and his violin: not at all. Almost the opposite. All there is warmth, a warmth which blooms thanks to the preponderance of inebriated bodies, fed by the discomfort of the places where we are all crammed together.

Glancing through the window, it looks like the Bowerbirds are the only ones to be enjoying that warmth. It feels like the streets are as cold and lonesome as they’ve always been: passers-by never look up, and it seems that none of them is able to detect the presence of this little band, right there, at their fingertips. Of course we’re wrong. As soon as the driver turns the corner, we notice couples holding hands, people walking together, people with eyes wide open. They’ll only get a glimpse of us, but that will make us feel that the Bowerbirds are in their element, there, in the streets of the Lower East Side.

New York is the queen of perspectives. You know it the first time you slide down its avenues, as soon as you see its towers, the moment you pace its narrow streets. And Vincent Moon knows it. This third video is about street musicians in front of a tiled wall. It is about cars driving by and people on the street, sometimes indifferent, sometimes curious. It’s about the big Liquor Store sign overhead. It’s about the pulse of a city.

This is also a tribute to Saul Leiter, the major Big Apple photographer. Just like in his work, we don’t really know where we are, where we’re looking from, and what could possibly stand between “us” and “them”. A window? For sure. A café’s tables? Without a doubt. Just like in Leiter’s work, we have the feeling that we’re discovering something mysterious, honestly beautiful, in a very familiar scene.

We get back to the warmth that was spreading in the car, and which is now seemingly forming a bubble around them. A bubble that grows bigger and bigger as the shot widens.

Until then, the Bowerbirds had made us walk in a sort of melancholic and blissful torpor, like when we wander in the sun and time’s on our side. A bit like a never-ending story that takes place at the end of summer. Bowerbirds must have been thinking that, even in the most perfect New York environment, there’s a moment where we should stand up and dance. Thanks to the wine, or maybe just because we had accumulated so much joy that it threatened to explode like a big firecracker. It was the right time for “In Our Talons”, a gold nugget you can find on the EP Danger At Sea.

This time, the singing was once again perfect. Our guy showed, once again, that he’s a born teller, a modern bard pacing the pavement to spread his word. But I have the feeling that now you should pay attention to the young lady. You’ve seen her since the beginning, you’ve heard her voice in counterpoint. But here–here you notice the subtle undulation of her gait, the way she grabs her accordion like she’s never done it before, moving along and as if she and it were one. They almost dance together, it seems. As if she was about to start dancing–as if we moved toward her, we would be able to grab her and waltz until we fall from exhaustion. Burdened with a huge instrument, she’s sensual, though. It’s all about details, anecdotes, once again. In the end, it’s all about what the Take away shows try to document: the small difference, the trifle where beauty hides.

Translated by Nora