"Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait" -Longfellow

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

LIVE REVIEW: The Whirlybirds

pic by Feli
The Whirlybirds @ Limelight, September 3, 2011

In the hit or miss San Antonio indie-rock scene, with its well established personalities and sounds and limits, it's always a welcomed surprise when a promising newcomer emerges. The Whirlybirds, headed by lead singer/songwriter Justin Davenport, are certainly promising and new in a number of ways. On a bill with Limelight favorites The Hawks of Holy Rosary, We Leave at Midnight and Chris Maddin; The Whirlybirds turned in the standout performance of the evening. Their fusion of blues, raw garage-soul and an updated brand of psychedelic brit-pop left a crowd of long-weekend revelers refreshed and mesmerized. The Whirlybirds Facebook page claims that they will "mess you up, son"... which turns out to be true, if by "mess you up" we understand: destroy the expectations of amateurishness and self-congratulatory immaturity that you normally bring to San Antonio indie rock shows (even the good ones). Or perhaps by "mess you up" they mean... hand you the moon tied with a metallic-blue bow...

Their sound, anchored by some astounding Claptonesque (I shit you not) guitar work by Ryan Curran and the crisp vocal harmonies of Davenport and guitarist Raul Alvarez, is full to bursting with a nostalgic richness and a keen attention to textural detail. What those in attendance heard, in The Whirlybirds first ever live performance, was a band in absolute command of their facilities, playing with a rarely seen togetherness and achieving something new and interesting using familiar elements. Their set was a mere ten songs, eight originals and two perfectly executed Beatles covers, but was enough to endear them greatly to a crowd that might not have expected to be so enthralled by a ponderously bluesy round of songs played without pretension, for the sheer joy of good music. For me the highlight of the night was a simultaneously soulful and spiteful number, “Nice Ties Hide Lies”, which allowed Davenport to showcase his oaken, woozily-pretty and powerful voice. The song deals indirectly with the exploits of a faceless, snazzily-dressed and corrupt bureaucrat, handing out favors to friends and, like Bob Dylan's 'Mr. Jones', seemingly incapable of understanding or of being understood. Another instant standout was "Running Around" (see below), a gorgeous vocal-chasing-vocal affair that would be enough to make The Raconteurs jealous. The Whirlybirds will, no doubt, soon be performing around town with some frequency; once people are wise to this group of four dudes making honest music without hipster pomp or unnecessarily distracting adornments. This is the real stuff folks, born from the great songbooks; but new in the way Lennon made Elvis new or Dylan made Guthrie new.

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