Bowerbirds: Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ 10/20/12

When I was in high school I knew a guy (his name long forgotten) who made a very sexy decision to emulate Jim Morrison- complete with wavy shoulder-length hair, leather pants and open-mouthed gaze. Needless to say I was in love, deeply madly in love.

Then one day, he came to school with his head shaved, wearing black pants, white button down shirt, skinny black tie and pork pie hat.  Over night, he had decided to go Ska! And just as quickly as my love had arrived, it fled.

As an adult, I now realize it wasn’t his fault. He was young and it is the prerogative and god-given right of the young to change (sometimes drastically) in the process of growth and self discovery.  It’s only natural.

Just like teenagers try on various guises in an attempt to ultimately find themselves, bands too try on different styles. And for the most part it’s a healthy sign of growth. What makes it heartbreaking is when you liked (even loved) what they were and not what they now are. And that is what made me so sad the other night at the Bowerbirds show at the Crescent Ballroom.

I really like the Bowerbirds of old. “In Your Talons” is nothing short of a gorgeous ode to the hard facts of life and death. A poem of extreme truth and beauty. Hymns for a Dark Horse being one of the best albums of 2007 that still resonates five years later. I liked that time in the life of the Bowerbirds. It spoke to me. But the newer material… not so much.

Their show on October 20, which mainly consisted of recent efforts, was underwhelming, overly- decorative and to be perfectly frank, lacking in cajones. And it’s not that there’s no place for tender music in my repertoire, but there has to be something that keeps it real. Bowerbirds’ newer work seems to have stepped into frivolous territory, and I find it hard to take that journey with them.

The musicianship was great. Voices were lovely, although I could do without the additional note Phil Moore adds on to the end of every line and sometimes Beth Tacula’s voice verges on a bitter screech… and not in a good way.

My main issue seems to have been with the songwriting. They’re just not the tight fierce lean songs of old. Instead of refining or following the path they set down for themselves with Hymns, they seem to have turned to cake- puffy, sugary and lacking of any musical nutritional value. 

So, as difficult as it may be, it’s situations such as this that help us learn just what our crushes are made of. Discovering what I thought was a deep affection was simply a superficial inclination is as much a part of life as a band’s right to change their musical trajectory. And you never know, maybe Bowerbirds will transform yet again, into something I like… again.

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