Yeah!’ is Wallis Bird’s first live album, something of an anomaly perhaps for an act who has always relied on the cackling electricity of her live performance as much as anything else for her success. Bird has toured relentlessly since she burst onto the scene in the ‘00s; indeed, a recent Facebook post informed fans of the 222 separate towns and cities she has played in around the world.
This album is the product of those years meandering around the planet, and it’s fair to say it’s been worth the wait. Unlike many live albums centred around a single gig or a residency in a venue, the tracks on ‘Yeah!’ are drawn from the reservoir of Bird’s shows around Europe over the course of the past seven years.
The artist’s journey is sometimes illustrated in microcosm within a single song. The Circle starts off in Cologne in 2012, before zipping back to the same city in 2007, and ending up with sound from a Dublin show in 2012. The result is akin to a visual artists’ career retrospective in a gallery or museum.
This is less a snapshot of a performer at a moment in their career rather it’s a study of their progression and development during more than half a decade on the road. The tracks are arranged roughly in chronological order starting with Blossoms in the Street from her debut offering ‘Spoons’ culminating with Hardly Hardly from last year’s ‘Architect’.
We are treated to a wide-ranging display of Bird’s powers and abilities, Blossoms and I Can Be Your Man are testament to the capacity of certain artists to make a room heave with little more than a guitar and a barrel of enthusiasm. Songs such as To My Bones are ferocious and electric in the way only the very finest practitioners of stagecraft can muster.
As is the way with the very best live recordings, the music doesn’t obscure the hints of what it would have been like to attend the actual gigs. Cross-continental crowds sing and bop along with gusto on The Circle and I Am So Tired Of That Line. The presence of the crowd acts as an additional band-member, clapping, singing, dancing and screaming.
On the other end of the scale, individual tracks assure first-time listeners that the Wexford woman is no mere raucous, ear-buster. As the meter swings from pulsating fortissimos back to plaintive, almost whispered ballads such as Measuring Cities and In Dictum. Bird doesn’t get lost in the marshes of tender balladeering though returning to the full-on happy strains of Encore, Daze, and I Can Be Your Man, before the album powers its way to a close with a rendition of Hardly Hardly.
While the seven-year spread of the record allows us to get a rounded picture of the artist, it also hinders the overall effect at times. Single-gig recordings allow the listener to be swept along in a continuous flow of energy from one track to the next, at times, ‘Yeah!” loses momentum and feels as if it’s starting from scratch.
On the other hand, it means each cut is a career defining live performances of each track. This isn’t merely a record of what happens when an artist steps out on stage; this is a record of what happens when it clicks. Whatever direction Bird goes in next (a new album is promised within the year), we can hope it isn’t too long before another live record saunters in our direction.