It is often the case that we learn as we go along, and this project is no exception. The very first concert, Peter & The Wolf, made it clear to us that the location was the thing that made it truly unique. For Bon Iver, everything was so perfect that we knew we had found the winning formula. We noted the importance of the right ingredients: an appropriate location, a great musician who will interact well, and in turn a wonderfully receptive audience. It was during the concert of Patrick Watson and Ron Sexsmith, that we encountered our first issue: the atmosphere was ideal, but there just wasn’t enough light for the cameras.
So, Wednesday was the turn of the Bowerbirds, and for a moment I thought that we were sorted. The two-story loft apartment seemed like a brilliant idea (and we are very grateful to the inhabitants, a Mr. Alex B and Estelle for hosting us), but splitting the audience over several spaces made us lose the wonderful closeness and warmth we had previously felt. We had also wanted to make the event slightly bigger, and ended up with an audience of nearly ninety people. We knew straight away that next time we would return to the original, smaller format. We had also taken too much care over the organisation, attempting to do too much, resulting in too many cameramen and bad lighting. Trial and error.
For a brief moment, we really believed that we had ruined our plans. Luckily we hadn’t invited just anybody to play. We had three musicians, clearly very pleased to be there next to us, now at your fingertips.
So, they spoke less than Bon Iver, put on less of a show than Patrick Watson, provoked less foot-tapping than Vandaveer, and drank less than Peter & The Wolf. But we knew already that with Bowerbirds it was a question of simplicity and a complete lack of fireworks (apart from perhaps, the white leather boots that the beautiful Beth was wearing). And when they launched the first chorus, we knew why they were there. Then the accordion and the violin came in, lovingly wrapped in the warm, haunting chants of Phil. The piano in the apartment had recently been tuned, and beautifully so. Their wandering songs began to take us by the hand, and later, when we did come to walk, were already dancing.
In the middle of the room sat a large drum. “It’s not easy to be moved with that beat”, said DJ Barney. But the beat is undoubtedly the heart of their sound. Without it, their songs can seem a bit thin, a bit empty, but when it’s there, all angry yet tender, they sound so much fuller, more vibrant, undulating.
The evening was finished with a Bon Iver cover, breathtaking, despite only having been practiced once or twice earlier in the day. Justin Vernon had originally suggested their own Olive Hearts, but Phil, more insistent than Justin, pushed for a cover of Flume. Less brutal, but no less poignant. Perfect in all its simplicity.