8:00pm • Thursday, January 19, 2023 • The Ark
I was so glad I braved the pouring rain last Thursday night to experience Wallis Bird and Marielle Kraft on the stage of the Ark. Songs were sung. Banter was bantered. No fewer than 10 guitar strings were broken (6 unintentionally, 4 intentionally).
Kraft opened the show with a small selection of her recent music. Her pared-down instrumentals and simple, crisp pop tunes provided a nice foil to Bird’s main act. I was particularly fond of “Second Coffee” and thought that “We Were Never Friends,” featuring audience participation during the chorus, was a great closer to hype everyone up for the main act.
If Kraft’s opening set was simple, Bird’s was eclectic, featuring an intense, intricate mix of a capella, guitar, synth, and piano. She opened with “Home,” sung a capella, approaching and retreating the microphone while she bantered with us, seeming to work up her confidence. Luckily for us, that confidence arrived, and she turned up the volume with several higher-energy songs, including the anti-establishment anthem “That’s What Life is For.”
My favorite of the night was one I’m not certain is recorded, which she introduced simply as a bit of “technofolk” which she said she wrote to emulate her partner in Berlin, a house musician. She introduced the song by asking the audience to keep the beat by snapping, stomping their feet, clapping–anything that would make some noise. As she added layers of guitar and synth, the atmosphere in the Ark strained to emulate a pulsing nightclub, a sound perhaps not in its usual auditory repertoire. In her other songs, she jammed on her guitar, continually snapping strings and casting the guitar aside to be quickly restrung in time for the next song.
Throughout the performance Bird was in high spirits and engaged with the audience, at one point asking an audience-member to sing a song she wasn’t familiar with so she could pretend to imitate it, promising him free t-shirts in exchange for his sportsmanship. When Bird was called back to the stage for an encore, none of her guitars were left with all their strings, so she called her backup vocalists/crew up to the stage to sing another impromptu a capella song, which if I remember correctly was “In Dictum.”
I was impressed with both Bird’s musicianship and her stage presence, simultaneously self-deprecating and full of swagger. If she makes another trip to the Ark from across the pond, I will certainly put in my best effort to attend.