Category: The Bird and the Bee

Live review: The Swell Season, She & Him and the Bird & the Bee at the Hollywood Bowl

SWELL_SEASON_325In another era, the Swell Season’s performance of “Falling Slowly” at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night would have been accompanied by 17,000 Bic lighters glowing in the summer air. 

The ballad catapulted the Swell Season, the Irish/Czech duo comprised of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, into the American mainstream when they won the Academy Award for best original song in the indie film “Once.” It’s a song tailor-made for heavy petting, and on Sunday night it certainly pleased the crowd.

But by that point – nearly three hours into the show, part of KCRW's World Festival -- the masses didn’t need much prompting. On an evening also featuring openers She & Him and the Bird & the Bee, the Swell Season walked onto the stage after the other two male/female duos (and backing bands) had rolled out a red carpet of lush, bouncy songs that filled the Bowl with good spirit.

“Have a glass of Chardonnay for me,” requested the Bird and the Bee singer Inara George as she greeted the crowd, accurately capturing its tastes. Wearing a sparkling flapper’s dress and offering sophsiticated cocktail pop music, George and musical partner Greg Kurstin, accompanied by a seven-piece band,  Bird_bee_325  delivered a sound that recalled Burt Bacharach’s adult-oriented songcraft. As well, they played two songs from the Bird and the Bee’s recent tribute album to Hall & Oates—”Sara Smile” and “I Heard It on the Radio”-- which set the crowd into nostalgia mode.

She & Him, the project of actress Zooey Deschanel and guitarist/songwriter M. Ward, offered a catchier fare, one that’s steeped in Brill Building pop and 1970s-era country music. Deschanel proved herself more than merely an actress with a singing hobby; her voice was powerful and confident, especially during the band’s final song, a take on Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” 

The Swell Season’s set pushed up the volume from the start. At times Hansard sang so hard it seemed like his eyes might pop out of his head. 

One of the highlights, though, was Irglova’s solo turn in front of the mike. Strumming an acoustic guitar, she dedicated a gorgeous, nuanced version of “I Have Loved You Wrong” to the actor Colin Farrell, who presented the Swell Season with their Academy Award at the 2008 ceremony. 

SHE_HIM_6_
 

The nine-piece band crafted a sound that blended classic ‘60s soul – Hansard’s got a voice to rival Van Morrison’s and Otis Redding’s – with a brand of blue collar rock that suggested Bruce Springsteen. The Boss, in fact, wrote the final song that the Swell Season performed: “Drive All Night.” It perfectly captured what the Swell Season does best: conveying a passionate honesty that cuts through pretense and tackles pure emotion. 

-- Randall Roberts

Photos: Glen Hansard, top right, and Marketa Irglova. The Bird and the Bee's Inara George, center, and She & Him's M. Ward, bottom left, with Zooey Deschanel. Credits: Gina Ferazzi  / Los Angeles Times


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Live review: The Bird & the Bee tackle Hall & Oates at the El Rey [Corrected]

BIRD_BEE_6_
 
The Bird and the Bee, a jazzy local synth-pop duo, has a fantastic single (with an unprintable title) imploring a hesitant beau to be a real boyfriend already. It’s a sassy chastening of noncommittal dudes. But when vocalist Inara George sings it while very clearly pregnant, as she did at the sold-out El Rey Theatre on Friday, the tune has an even blacker sense of humor.

“This song has more meaning when I’m like this,” George said, pointing to her stomach to room-wide chuckling. Her husband, the director Jake Kasdan, may have protested that he made it official a long time ago. But it was one of many arched-eyebrow moments in a set of smart, fluffy pop made by two talents not taking themselves at all too seriously.

Case in point: Later this month, the band (its core members are George and producer Greg Kurstin) will release “Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall and John Oates,” a deliciously titled cover album of tunes from the duo that launched a thousand mustache and “yacht-rock” jokes. But for the Bird and the Bee, the line between true love and having a lark is malleable. 

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Album review: The Bird and the Bee's 'Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future'

Birdbee_2 The Bird and the Bee, the project of singer Inara George and Lily Allen’s producer Greg Kurstin, makes exquisite dinner party music. That’s not a slight — like any other subgenre, it has its good and its bad, its watered-down faux bubbly and its liquid gold. And the Bird and the Bee’s second album, “Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future,” is on the liquid gold side — let’s say Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, because Françoise Hardy probably drinks it.

Building crisp pop imbibements that can stand up to several listens is no easy task, but the Bird and the Bee has found the trick: Complex melodies constructed of several simple, shiny parts, all revolving around George’s breathy voice, the calling card of a nocturnal party sprite who might be cooing her songs at a flirty soiree.

But she’s also not afraid to command the center: “Polite Dance Song” is a showcase for Kurstin and George’s sly wit. Over an arched eyebrow of a beat, George demands, with extra sugar, for you to dance. She’s also adorably kooky: In “Diamond Dave,” a perfumed mash note for David Lee Roth, she pledges her undying love for the king of the unitard.

There are moments when the party cools, when George retreats to an introspective center, but that’s what you play when everyone’s gone and you still have all those dishes to do and only a drop of Veuve left.

--Margaret Wappler

The Bird and the Bee
“Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future”
(Blue Note)
3 stars

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