The quiet charm and full-bodied songwriting of the Bowerbirds grabbed me from the beginning of their set Friday night at the Vollrath Tavern. The band's sound -- swinging and hopeful melodies set off by soft minor chords of melancholy -- suggests the rejuvenating act of huddling around a bonfire at the end of a long, wet, exhausting day. Slow-building and light compositions are reminiscent of Margot and the Nuclear So & So's or Murder by Death, not to mention that the lead singer's soothing voice sounds a bit like Andrew Bird.
The stage setup for the Bowerbirds was visually appealing, evoking a pre-electric world with an accordion, stand-up bass, violin, well-seasoned guitars and a percussion arrangement that modestly consisted of a deep, bellowing floor tom, snare drum and simple pair of cymbals. Stage right, Beth Tacular played accordion and keyboards, contributing backup vocals while softly swaying, eyes closed, and genuinely engrossed. Phil Moore stood front and center, strumming dark melodies that complemented his room-temperature voice to perfection.
The band's latest addition is Mark Paulson, who leaned against the wall, entranced and fully enveloped by Moore and Tacular's gripping vocals, while smoothly rolling on the floor tom with mallets. He and Cook played musical chairs throughout the set; Paulson would occasionally move to the front to man the violin while Cook assumed percussion responsibilities.
Megafaun's fast-paced, Southern strings transformed a modest crowd of loiterers into fully engaged admirers. Two songs into their set, they paraded off the stage and played amongst the audience, certainly drawing the attention -- if not the adoration -- of previously disinterested patrons who were quietly huddled over $3 pints of Upland. Brad Cook of Megafaun played for both sets, playing string bass in the Bowerbirds.
Friday's stop by the Bowerbirds came fresh off the July 7 release of their second album, Upper Air on Bloomington, Ind.-based label Dead Oceans. Not able to make a trek to Luna or Indy CD and Vinyl any time this week, I bought it off iTunes, four minutes after I got home.