Irish singer-songwriter, Wallis Bird’s first ever Adelaide show, on the last Wednesday night of the Adelaide Fringe, proved to be a most odd and, in unexpected ways, a most memorable performance.
Bird, who has now released over half a dozen albums since her 2007 debut, seemed initially nervous and a little bemused as she introduced herself to a small crowd who sat scattered across the first few rows of seats.
The set started calmly, with an a cappella version of Home, the title track from her latest album, where Bird’s voice was clear, but in need of warming up. This was followed by The Deep Reveal, an ambitious piece that employed the live looping process to compose a multilayered backing as the musical bed for her ‘lead’ vocal. In this particular performance, however, the desired effect was not achieved, nor did the combination of sounds allow the singer to find the rhythm she seemed to be striving for.
A quiet, but largely formless, piano ballad followed. Again, the rhythm was awkward and the piano seemed out of synch with the lyrical melody. This may have been deliberate, as she appeared to be an artist whose compositions willingly snub their nose at common musical conventions and deliberately set out to disorientate listeners, often staying just off the beat and using repeated chords that sound wilfully off key.
In between songs, however, Bird came across as a witty, self-deprecatingly funny and a genuinely warm person, enjoying this first chance to play to Australian audiences.
Once she strapped on a guitar, the tone of the performance changed significantly, and Bird became a much more potent stage presence.
She attacked the guitar with a concentrated force that punched her songs into life, and played in such a frenzied manner that it often left her breathless as she delivered her lyrical messages – quite often at full roar.
Bird’s voice is a strange beast indeed and, when given full rein to rise up, it is a powerful primal force which fights against restraint.
In this show, Bird’s guitars really took a pounding – and she lost a few strings during the performance. You could also see the scars on her acoustic where her guitar pick has gouged its way repeatedly through the body’s surface during each song that the instrument has played.
A guitar technician is desperately required as a member of the essential tour personnel because, as a result of her assault on the strings of her instrument, she spends far too large a percentage of her stage time tuning up.
There was no lack of conviction in Bird’s delivery though, and the small crowd whooped and hollered their encouragement to her as she crunched her way through some of her more uptempo repertoire.
Late in the set, she called upon her sound man and her tour support personnel to join her on stage and provide backing vocals on numbers such as That Leads The Way. With this vocal support adding greater resonance, even in its loose and ragged nature, the songs took on a stronger, more melodic dimension which had been missing in the rawer, more visceral, numbers that had preceded these.
Whilst the rough and ready nature of the show made it hard to say it was fully satisfying as a concert performance, there were songs in this set such as Seasons, The Circle and Blossoms In The Street, that have a quality core, but tonight’s rough hewn performances did not allow their quality to ever fully emerge.
The set finished with the full folk-punk blast of the ‘happiest song’ she’s ever written, To My Bones, and Bird gave the song everything she had – a wild, inhibition free, exorcism of jet lag, concert nerves, and all bad karma.
This was a performance unlike any I had previously witnessed, and I was glad to be there, because I did like the intensity and passion of Bird’s delivery. I don’t think that songs, however, will have any place on any of my personal playlists in the foreseeable future.
Rating: 2 1/2 stars
Wallis Bird performed at the Fortuna Spiegeltent, in the Garden of Unearthly Delights on Wednesday 13 March, 2019.