Good bands write songs that people like and perform them well. Great bands write songs that people love and perform them excellently. The best bands write songs and perform in such a way that when a listener has finished watching or hearing, that listener feels the only appropriate thing to do is join the band and be awesome with them or — barring that Black Flag-esque experience — form their own band that is exactly like the band in question.
Breathe Owl Breathe is one of the very best bands I’ve seen live.
To start: in them there is no guile. The three members of the band are earnest beyond anything I’ve ever seen on stage. Whether it’s playing with a werewolf hat/puppet, telling dragon stories, delicately stagediving, dressing the part, cracking jokes or (oh yeah) performing their music, all is done with an absolute belief that “this is totally cool and fun.”
Many bands, when pulling off antics similar to BOB’s, would infuse the proceedings with a sense of irony, just as a protective device: The band still must be taken seriously, you know. Not so with these three. Their childish wonder and goofy stage antics are the serious part. And when the audience realized this on Thursday, Nov. 4, that’s when things got interesting.
“Dog Walkers of the New Age” kicked off the set, but the crowd was standoffish and confused at the fist-pumps in the otherwise mellow tune. It wasn’t until Micah donned a camail and started telling the story that precedes “Dragon” that people really got into it. Micah, Andrea and Trevor encouraged the audience to participate by giving them parts to clap and melodies to sing, which the audience (having caught on that the earnestness wasn’t a trick) enthusiastically obliged.
From then on, the audience was hooked, enjoying antics with the aforementioned werewolf hat, goofy dances and general glee. The stage show was enough to endear an attendee, but the fact that they played knockout tunes made the set impossible to not love. From “Own Stunts” to “Swimming” to “Board Games,” they blew through their tunes with perfection. The vocals were spot-on, the instruments sounded perfect, and the timing was precise. The band did not let their gleeful antics get in the way of their musicianship at all.
Instead, it seemed that the antics were an overflow of their musicianship; they just played that way. On “Board Games,” Andrea set up a tom and a snare, which she walloped with bouncy exuberance. When she played her cello, she did so with finesse and excitement. Micah, although not exuberant in his motions, played the whole set with a dry wit that kept the crowd in stitches. Trevor, unfortunately, was back in the shadows most of the time, but he did provide “ooo”s for the “spirit of the werewolf,” when it “flew” off Andrea’s head at the end of the song. I use quotation marks only because I know no other way to convey the ideas.
In short, Breathe Owl Breathe’s quiet, introspective folk songs translated into glorious, gleeful spectacles live. It was impossible to dislike the set, mostly because BOB was having so much fun doing what they were doing. Their energy was infectious, and it made for one of the most memorable sets I’ve ever seen. I’m sad I didn’t bring my camera. I’m sad I didn’t bring all my friends. These errors will be corrected next time.