MUSIC | Bowerbirds and Sharon Van Etten are soothing (if not soporific) at the Varsity

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The Varsity Theater was the perfect place for the Bowerbirds performance on Tuesday night—the North Carolingian trio’s bittersweet melodies were perfectly matched to the theater’s lush, velvety decor. In fact if it weren’t for the stage lights one could have mistaken the entire performance for an intimate gathering in someone’s enormous living room. Attendees lounged around the floor, chatting, sipping drinks; sometimes cradling pillows from one of the venue’s many couches. Three hundred pairs of pajamas would have made the picture complete—but alas, the recent cold spell kept everyone bundled.


The band mainly drew material from last year’s record, Upper Air, with singer Phil Moore handling the lead vocals in a wholesome baritone. Moore was supported by Beth Tacular on the accordion and Matt Damron on percussion (with Will Hackney joining in on mandolin). The group’s elegant folk-tinged melodies were beautiful and restrained, never seeking to really invade the ear so much as to coast by it. The ebb and flow of sweet, unobtrusive sound cradled the audience in a warm blanket—and, if I am not mistaken, even lulled a few into deep slumber.


Brooklyn vocalist Sharon Van Etten opened the set, a rootsy folk artist in the mold of Alela Diane or Marissa Nadler. Van Etten’s vocal chops were impressive, with every charming warble coming out effortlessly. The artist’s cheerful cutesiness could get a little cloying (at one point she asked everyone to shout out where they were from before beaming back “pleased to meet you!”), but overall her performance was nothing short of gorgeous. Still, with two bands with sounds so finely tuned to gentle unobtrusiveness, it’s a wonder that I didn’t hear more snores.


Bowerbirds