Birds & Arrows at 9th and Beats

Chapel Hill's indie folk rock trio Birds & Arrows perform at 9th and Beats in DC. Photo: Birds & Arrows, Andrea Connelly, Peter Connelly, Josh Starmer

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2013 —Personal dynamics within a band always combine to create interesting scenarios during live sets—ones that can’t necessarily be duplicated by listening to a band in any other fashion. Whether a band is going through a rough patch, is perfectly in sync, just feeling one another out, or spiraling out of control—all can combine to lend a unique atmosphere to a given performance.  This is especially true during Birds and Arrows’ recent set at local club 9th and Beats.

The Chapel Hill trio consists of Andrea Connelly both on guitar and as primary vocalist, Peter Connelly as drummer and occasional vocalist, and Josh Starmer who hauls his cello anywhere the band decides to play within the confines of the venue. If it’s not already clear, Peter and Andrea are married and the current state of their relationship plays a huge role in how the band and their songs are perceived by the audience. Even if someone in the audience weren’t aware of this relationship, the contextual clues emanating from their set would hint broadly at a close relationship.

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One of the primary things that can make or break a band with a relatively low key sound like Birds and Arrows is implied emotional intimacy the band communicates to the audience. Birds and Arrows uses the relationship of the Connellys to great effect. Their songs are upbeat and never sad, playing off the notion that the road ahead will be better and the future relatively brighter.

Sometimes folk acts are subversive, sounding upbeat and sunny even as they undercut the atmosphere of their own songs with somber lyrics. This doesn’t happen with Birds and Arrows.  Appealingly, the band matches the musical atmosphere with lyrical content. Although that’s not necessarily original, Birds and Arrows also shy away from acting quirky and coy, even though a listener might initially get that impression, particularly when they choose to bring out a ukulele.

Despite the interplay between the two Connellys, they never come off as too cute. Instead, their onstage closeness and vocal interchange adds to the depth of their songs. Even if Andrea Connelly hadn’t explicitly explained the couple’s relationship midway through their set, the closeness of their harmonies would have offered a perceptual clue, making their songs feel as if they’re mining something beneath the surface rather than just skimming the emotional impact off the top.

Of course, the other reason why Birds and Arrows sound works with their lyrical content is because their over all sound possesses considerable depth. A lot of this has to do with the unusual presence of Josh Starmer’s cello, an instrument that adds a haunting feel to the instrumental output, giving an emotional boost to each song that increases its power while avoiding melancholy or sentimentality.

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When Birds and Arrows concluded their set at 9th and Beats by going completely acoustic and even sans the traditional percussion wandering into the audience covering the Outfield’s “Your Love.”  It ramped up the emotional content even more. It may have seemed like a strange, subdued way to end the evening. But it perfectly capped off the intimate feel of a band that doesn’t shy away from letting audience members into their lives.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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