Birds of Tokyo’s reunion with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra is well worth the wait. Julie Hosking takes flight.
Birdsongs, Birds of Tokyo & WASO
Perth Concert Hall, 24 August 2023
I’ve taken a bit of a gamble tonight, bringing a music lover unfamiliar with much of the Birds of Tokyo canon to their collaboration with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.
As the horns bring Mercy Arms to a thunderous conclusion, he leans over to whisper “it’s very Barry-esque” (as in late James Bond film composer John Barry) and I know it has paid off. There are few higher compliments the Barry aficionado could deliver. And that’s before conductor Nicholas Buc leads the ensemble through an arrangement of Brace worthy of the best Bond villain.
In the lead-up to the first of three shows at Perth Concert Hall, Birds frontman Ian Kenny and guitarist Adam Spark spoke about the lessons learned from their first partnership with the orchestra in 2021 and the desire to make this one even more cinematic in scope.
Chalk this up as a raving success. Working closely with Buc, whose arrangements are empathetic to the originals while infusing them with the lush power only an orchestra can bring, Birds of Tokyo take their much-loved songs to new heights.
It’s a shame the orchestra setup does not allow the band to be closer to the audience, most of whom are clearly there to see the Birds. The disconnect is most noticeable for the first few songs, with Kenny’s distinctive vocals occasionally lost in the mix. There’s no doubting the orchestral force behind anthemic songs such as Plans and Unbreakable, however.
The cinematic feel builds on Circles, soulful strings wrapping Glenn Sarangapany’s delicate touch on the grand piano, William Nichols’ fluttering harp adding to the dramatic poignancy of this regret-filled song. For a real heartstring puller, though, it’s hard to go past Kenny’s gorgeous ode to his son, My Darling, My Son, or the aching Wild at Heart, Barry-esque horns flooding the auditorium with emotion.
Birdsongs is an emotional concert, where songs full of meaning are taken to another level by a band clearly determined to make the most of the platform, led by the expert baton of Buc, who gives a master class in finely attuned conducting. The energy and precision he brings to arrangements for I’d Go Anywhere with You and the slow-building banger Never Going Back that closes the first set are something to behold.
When Kenny and Spark come to sit on the stage edge to open the second set, the crowd erupts. “Is this better,” Kenny asks, with the response leaving no doubt they want them front and centre. The duo’s rich, raw rendition of The Greatest Mistakes, accompanied by Rebecca Glorie on violin, is a rare stripped-back moment in an evening of epic proportions.
When they retreat to the back of the stage with the rest of the band, the momentary disappointment quickly dissipates as Sarangapany plays the opening bars of Two of Us. The bewitching combination of band and orchestra has cast its spell and we’re here for every note.
Kenny shines on a restrained Anchor, the band’s harmonies sending shivers up my spine, before he introduces a rare cover “to take advantage of this setup”. Inspired by Johnny Cash’s acclaimed take on the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt, it’s a powerhouse of performance, Kenny turning pain into something beautiful, the music gradually building in intensity.
This Fire takes a similar approach, the beat growing in ferocity with the percussion, while the catchy Good Lord gives the crowd another reason to sing along. It’s then Buc steps up the aforementioned Barry cinematic tone. Time is flying by in a glorious wall of sound.
When the band returns for the inevitable encore of Lanterns, the audience is more than ready to raise the roof, mobile lights swaying above their heads. On we march/with a midnight song/we will light our way/with our lanterns on.
It’s a joyous end to an unforgettable concert – “one of the best I’ve seen” my new Birds fan opines – and another reminder of the calibre of West Australian bands and our state orchestra. I’d urge you to buy tickets to the shows tonight and tomorrow night but they have all been snapped up. And deservedly so.
Pictured top: Birds of Tokyo will perform two more soldout shows with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Rebecca Mansell
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