November 18th brought LA’s The Bird and the Bee to the Blender Theater at Gramercy.
This was, hands down, one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. Inara George and Greg Kurstin performed 13 songs of naked bliss that allowed me to retire the 2007 concert season in absolute contentment.
The Bird and the Bee is Inara George, the singer/songwriter daughter of the late, great, musician and producer Lowell George (Little Feat) and Greg Kurstin, a talented producer and keyboardist. The two met during the recording of George’s 2006 solo-album ‘All Rise,’ discovered a shared love for jazz and electro, and decided to make a record together. The resulting self-titled album (2007) never leaves my iPod.
An initially sparse Sunday crowd had me doubting as to whether or not the Bird and the Bee’s numerous talk show performances and inclusion on the soundtracks of several episodes of Grey’s Anatomy had any effect on their popularity. However, after uncommonly good opening sets from Camphor and Charlie Wadhams, the crowd had grown to a critical mass that vibrated with uncommon excitement and anticipation.
George, who is known for her retro and often outlandish fashion sense, took the stage in a pair of white vinyl slippers, bloomers and a multicolored polka dot frock. In contrast, Kurstin wore an muted black suite and silver tie. The duo began the set with a haunting rendition of “Preparedness.” The track was an interesting choice as an opener because of its simple structure.
(â€œPreparednessâ€ is the kind of naked song that, if poorly executed, could ruin a show. In this case, it did quite the opposite.)
The album recording of, â€œPreparednessâ€ is pretty but unremarkable. Performed live, the song was concert defining. George’s voice sailed over Kurstinâ€™s keyboard work with a clarity that flew in the face of a music industry that regularly hides lack of talent with production. If there was anyone in the audience who wasnâ€™t sold on The Bird and the Bee before, they were sure as hell sold then.
Building momentum with every successive song, the George and Kurstin played through a set consisting of album favorites like â€œAgain & Againâ€ and â€œF*cking Boyfriendâ€ as well as new work like â€œManâ€ and â€œPolite Dance Songâ€ from their Please Clap Your Hands EP. Apart from the music, what makes a performance by The Bird and the Bee so memorable is a simple matter of charisma. People (men and women alike) love Inara George. Her funky fashion sense, bright smile, love of bubbles, and candid stage banter give the audience a tangible sense that she (and Greg) absolutely love performing. This feeling of fun, though best illustrated when the pair came together mid-set to play with a toy-like keyboard, was written on their faces the entire show. At one point, George endearingly remarked how wonderful it felt to have people come out and listen their music. The feeling was mutual. Many small moments throughout the show created a genuine feeling of delight that obliterated the boundary between audience and performer.
My personal highlights from the set were â€œAgain & Again,â€ â€œMan,â€ and â€œI Hate Camera.â€
After an elated round of applause, The Bird and the Bee returned to the stage for a single-song encore consisting of the cover of the Bee Geeâ€™s â€œHow Deep is Your Loveâ€ featured on the Please Clap Your Hands EP. George was joined by friend and fellow indie-pop singer/songwriter Sia for the final song. George and Kurstin took photos and chatted with fans after the show.
Shooting this band is somewhat of a personal milestone. I first encountered The Bird and the Bee in November of 2006 at the CMJ Music Festival. Though I was already an avid photo hobbyist, CMJ06 was the first time I’d shot live music. The Bird and the Bee’s return to NYC marks my first anniversary as a concert photographer.
For those of you who have never been to CMJ, it’s a tiresome affair that consists largely of waiting in block-long lines to see lots of new bands with a sprinkling of real talent. Of the 20+ bands I photographed that week, only one left an impression lasting enough to deserve a morning-after google search. After months of playing the same three tracks “Again & Again” on myspace, I bought the album as soon as it was released.
This show was the rare (possibly once annual) experience where I spend more time in a blissful state of music enjoyment than taking photographs. For those of you wondering, yes, I did shoot during â€œI hate camera.â€
The lighting at the Blender Theater was wonderful. The backlighting was an ever changing mixture of blues, greens, and reds shot through smoke. The frontlighting ran neutral to cool but remained ample for the majority of the show. Not much direct light fell on Greg Kurstin save a few choice moments when he either moved to center stage or the the body of his guitar reflected some backlight up to his face.
My settings remained locked in at 1/160 – 1/200 at f/2.8 and ISO 2000. For some more difficult shots of Greg, my ISO climbed to 6400.
The 24-70mm f/2.8L saw the lions share of the work while the 135mm f/2.0L was used stopped down to f/2.8 for the tighter shots of Inara. As usual, the entire show was shot on a Canon EOS-1D Mark III.
I love this band.