I walked along Adelaide trying to find building number 192. The Shangri-La Hotel is 180 and when you cross over Simcoe the first building is 196. Where is this elusive Soho House that I keep hearing crazy stories about? Like how when it is a regular club or restaurant service you can only get in by having a private member bring you. Then it dawned on me, the building in between the aforementioned ones, the one with no name on the door, and no number listed, the building where the windows have curtains covering them so you can’t see inside is Soho House. How could I be so naïve? After covering Miran Kay and Milan’s show at The Rivoli on Friday night, Birds of Bellwoods, the opening act, invited me out to see them play again, this time at a venue where they are the main attraction.
The gang of four hit the stage wearing white button down shirts and various parts of suits. All had on black ties, some had on suspenders, others had vests on, either way this was as much a coordinated outfit as it was looking nice in a nice club. The top floor of Soho House looks like a log cabin out of a 1950’s catalogue, wood paneled walls, old hard cover books covering the shelves and ‘modern art’ paintings on the walls. The band’s old timey influences suited the room like they decorated it themselves.
Birds of Bellwoods launched into their lengthy set by playing Nevermore, a wistful love song that was sung with a slight crack in lead singer and mandolin player Stevie Joffe’s voice. I’m not sure if it was by design or he was just warming up, but the naturalness of it showed some really raw emotions. The highlight of the set came early on with Grey Ghosts, a song where the bands full power is realized. It is a dark song and during the chorus the band thrashes and pound on their instruments and the intensity is enough to give you shivers. The anger and pain in Joffe’s voice is palpable. The thumping of standup bass player Kintaro Akiyama lines, feels like an increasing heartbeat, matching your own as the music swells and soars.
The narrow yet long room was packed all the way to the back, a much better turnout then the previous time I saw them, this time it seemed like every friend and family member they have was in attendance. It felt like a coming out party as each song got thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd. Birds of Bellwoods made the news a few months ago, as they were one of the few bands that suffered the wrath of North by Northeast’s pettiness about their radius clause. They were scheduled to play the Cameron House but 38 days before their gig they played another one to play a benefit show for a homeless shelter, a noble deed for sure. Unfortunately since NXNE’s radius clause dictates that you can’t play a show within 45 days of the fest, they were ‘removed’ from the lineup. Only a few bands got the boot and I can’t help but wonder if that could have been a different coming out party for them, one where publications could have named them as one of the best local and best up and coming acts that they probably would have received.
The band announced that they were having a music video come out in the next few weeks as No Less Than All got a visual treatment. While Joffe sang lead vocals, the whole band sang harmonies and backing vocals. During Harvest Moon guitarist Adrian Morningstar and banjo player Chris Blades sang the most beautiful harmonies of the night. They sang in their upper registers and it was almost like they were singing in a row with Joffe. They had the type of soothing voices that could make a baby stop crying. Joffe showed off his falsetto range and it was not dissimilar to Frankie Valli.
Calling the band a folk act seems inappropriate as they have little in common with that genre of music, which is currently dominating the folk scene. They aren’t like The Lumineers, City and Colour or Mumford and Sons. To hear their influences you would have to be aware of early Americana recordings, and bluegrass. Today’s folk artists have more in common with an acoustic Bruce Springsteen than what Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan pioneered.
The mostly female crowd wooed their pleasure towards the gents, especially after Joffe introduced everyone. At one point a female audience member tried to goad them into taking off their shirts, to which they replied “Are you crazy, do you see how good we look?”
They tried to end the set and give the appearance that they played all their songs, but since there was no way of leaving the stage without pushing through everyone, they told the crowd to act like they had left and chant for an encore. Blades announced they were playing a Radiohead cover to which the band jokingly got angry at him, and Blades covered up by saying he wrote the song himself. When they broke in Idioteque, they showed how versatile they can play with Blades’ banjo lines and Morningstar banging the drum beat on his guitar as highlights. The night was finished off with a foot stomping rendition of their song Beast.
When the boys tried to leave the stage people were eagerly waiting to tell them what they thought of the performance. While it was mostly friends and family in the crowd, everyone left impressed and it will only be time before they are talked about as a big up and coming band to watch out for.