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For better or worse, La Jolla’s The Loft is nestled in the hippest corner of the trendiest part of one of the world’s most elite colleges. It attracts the most self-important hipster scumbags in Southern California. Honestly, at a Jens Lekman show about a year back, someone I can only describe as a horrible gene-splice between Jello Biafra and John Lennon told me, in unabashed snobbery, that he “caught this guy at the Soda Bar a few years ago, maybe like, 15 people in the crowd.” But for what it’s worth, The Loft sports a decent stage, a few less-repulsive showgoers to talk to, relatively cheap drinks and a DJ who isn’t afraid to spin “I Want You Back” every once in a while.

The Loft’s attendance swings pretty sincerely on the Pitchfork rating. While Best New Music’d acts like Girls or Why? had the venue brimming with people, a modestly-accredited band like Bowerbirds drew an unobtrusive, half-the-venue congregation, and they acted equally personable. Easily identified by their home-sewn shirts and ruffled beards, they mulled about the stage long-before playing, answering any particular question that came their way. Their merch table was set with five timidly flickering candles, and when they finally, you know, started the show, they cued it up with a gregarious “hello.” And when they wrapped their final song, they welcomed any journalist brave enough to a side-stage chit-chat, photo-op session.

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That of course brings us to the music, and if you’re even vaguely familiar with the band, you know what you’re getting into – a series of subtle, well-harmonized folk songs. Just like on the records, Beth Tacular is equipped primarily with an accordion, and she only takes it off to occasionally plunk down a few piano notes. (She also looks absurdly similar to Natalie Portman but that’s neither here nor there.) The instrument was put to good use, working its way through accordion-heavy takes of Upper Air highlights “Teeth” and “Chimes” early in the set. In fact, save for a quickly-fixed busted bass drum, the band sounded remarkably similar to themselves on record. Even the tough deep-cuts like the swaddling warmth of “Northern Lights” were pulled off down to each unconscious piano clink.

Save for an incredibly enthusiastic (read: astoundingly fucked up) couple who swing-danced and shouted every lyric before security handily tucked them out the backdoor, the crowd did the typical indie rock enthusiast thing – not moving an inch even at the band’s danciest. Which, honestly, isn’t even that surprising; Bowerbirds aren’t exactly Hot Chip, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t check my watch a few times throughout their snail-paced, hour-long set. Their music tends to blur together after a while, which could be a criticism for any band, but there simply isn’t a lot of purely-acoustic drum/accordion/mandolin/guitar compositions to maintain unabashed attention through a whole set.

What I will say though is that they put on probably the best gig a band like Bowerbirds could muster; recreating their sound with astounding detail on stage. And as long as we’re judging live shows by the proximity to their original source, they’ll continue to win over audiences.

by Luke Winkie
[Photos: Jessie Gonior and Craig Shimala]
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