Indie goddess graces York with transcendental performance – 9/10
Opening with a spellbinding flute entrance interspersed with enchanting piano chords, Birdy launches straight into ‘Shadow’ off her latest album. With her soft, clear voice flirting with the background violin and contrasting beautifully against the weight of the bassline and drums, she steps seamlessly into ‘Beating Heart’, from which she leaps into the more upbeat ‘Hear You Calling’. In time with her uplifting chorus, dramatic lights travel up majestic gossamer ribbons that stream from the ceiling. It is a seamless performance, with Birdy saying a simple, sincere “thank you” after each song.
She then revisits some of the old favourites that blasted her to fame when she was fourteen, of which ‘People Help The People’ stands out as far richer in sound than her studio version, especially in the second half of the song when the violin and drums missing from her studio recording well up to fill the Barbican.
It is here that Birdy descends into the painful poignancy that the tone of her voice brings across so well. ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Lost It All’ have the audience completely mesmerised and swaying to her pitch-perfect vocals that pierce right through the heart. But it is the song that she calls her “favourite one on the new album”, ‘Unbroken’, that tugs at the heartstrings the most. The combination of the piano, violin, flute and the heavenly chorus of back-up vocals at the end breathes hope into the room and serves as an encouraging reminder that “many moons will lighten the way/… and everything you once loved remains/ unbroken”.
Birdy then stands up for the first time from her trusty piano, swapping it for a guitar and revealing in full her bohemian-goddess outfit – a red kimono over a stunning black bodysuit. A lively performance of ‘Words As Weapons” ensues, heavily featuring the beautifully piercing notes of violinist Joel Grainger. Of the new tracks that follow, including ‘Save Yourself’, title track ‘Beautiful Lies’ and ‘Take My Heart’, the song that stands out the most is ‘Silhouette’, which Birdy tells the excited crowd that she will “play slightly differently from normal”. The song is beautifully emotive and builds up amazingly to its chorus, but the real treat is when the band takes a surprising turn into the chorus of Kate Bush’s classic ‘Running Up That Hill’. The audience claps along and bright blue lights flash in quick succession – Birdy has the arena up in pandemonium.
Markedly, her obligatory encore presents itself as even more magnificent than what came before. The audience roars in recognition at the introductory piano chords of iconic ‘Skinny Love’, and Birdy’s performance of the classic is as beautiful as expected. She then invites opening act and crowd favourite Dan Owen back on stage to perform ‘Let It All Go’, and his rough country tones beautifully contrast against her angelic vocals. With heart-breaking penultimate track ‘Winter’, the band showcases its full musical prowess alongside Birdy’s otherworldly vocals. It is granted full stage-reign for a good two minutes, during which it produces a sound intensely overpowering, dark and menacing. For the first time, the bitterness and anguish underlying some of Birdy’s songs is surfaced and allowed a full-blown rampage.
It would have been a powerful note to end the night on, but some might have found it uncharacteristic of Birdy’s classically melancholic vibe. More importantly, it would have been almost unacceptable to skip over the album’s first single ‘Keeping Your Head Up’. It is on this uptempo note of positivity and resplendence that Birdy concludes her show – and given that “the album is about finding light in the dark and overcoming the times when we feel completely lost” – perhaps the ending to this show could not have been more apt.
(Photo credits: Filippo L’Astorina)
Published in HeadFirst4Music Magazine November 14, 2016.