The Bye Bye Blackbirds (photo: Patric Carver)
Bradley Skaught, frontman for The Bye Bye Blackbirds stepped up to the mic and asked the crowd: “Does it feel like Saturday night?”
The response was a mash of indifference and mumbles with a few tepid claps. The singer stepped aside the mic and sighed, “OK, well, I guess not…yet.”
It certainly didn’t feel like Saturday night for me. As a native Floridian, I was frantically checking my phone every few minutes for updates from friends and family in anticipation of Hurricane Irma’s landfall. Did they have enough water? Boards for windows? Did they have to evacuate?
The tiny screen of my phone illuminated my sour, worried face with the glow of a terrifying radar image projecting a storm that seemed to swallow the Caribbean whole. Guilt consumed me as I checked various weather sources for projection models, damage updates, and tornado warnings. Physically, I was at the Ivy Room to review a show, but my mind was thousands of miles away on the Western coast of the Sunshine State.
Then, the Blackbirds launched into their first song, “Like a Thief.”
I’m not going to lie and say that I completely forgot about Irma. I didn’t even manage to put my phone away, for the better part of the night. There was a change, though, in the rising tide of anxiety that was, up until that point, washing over me. “Thief” is not hippy-dippy calm down music. It’s this wonderful, charging power-pop piece. It teeters between anthem and pop song with its beautiful, cascading harmonies during the chorus. It’s the type of song that simply sweeps you away.
That lukewarm crowd received a shot in the arm from this opening song – audience members nodded and tapped along. Some not yet inoculated against outward expressions of rampant joy by the pervasiveness of Bay Area blasé were even up at the front dancing.
This energy and enthusiasm continued through the night. The Blackbirds never missed a beat, playing a tight, sharp set. I was asked recently to describe the Blackbirds sound, and I couldn’t really come up with a genre-specific adjective. Power-pop? Well, yes, but then there’s more of that old-time country influence, like the climbing guitars on “All in Light,” or what about the Motown fingerprint that is all over “Let Your Hair Fall Down”? The only way for me to sum up the Blackbirds is great rock and roll. Like all good rock, their influences are all over that map, creating a crazy wall of connections that Skaught leads us through — spelling out his theories on the boundaries (or lack thereof) in songcraft. It’s music that always makes you feel like a slightly better version of yourself.
It doesn’t matter the night of the week or the state you’re in. When the Blackbirds are playing, it feels like Saturday night.
The Bye Bye Blackbirds will be playing Hemlock Tavern on October 21.