Review: Wallis Bird at Whelans on the 24th of October 2012

For such a small woman, Wallis Bird packs quite the punch, as a sold out Whelans was to discover on a dark, dank Wednesday night in October. With the buzz building early as the crowd gathered outside, it seemed all of Dublin had come out to welcome one of Ireland’s most loved artists back from what’s been a year of solid touring, and what a return it turned out to be for the Wexford born native.

Dublin duo Cry Monster Cry kicked off the evening with their brand of folk rock. Opening with the sweet and simple Atlas, the band moves through their set, and prove just how much they have to offer. On Tangled Shores rhythmically ebbs and flows, while tracks like This New Country explode into harmony and driven rhythms. A hugely enjoyable set, regardless of background chatter, and a band to catch live if you can.

Some form of roadie emerges to scatter dried leaves across the stage signals Wallis Bird‘s imminent approach, and it’s clear the crowd are eagerly anticipating her. This eagerness is confirmed tenfold when she does arrive, to raucous cheering and applause. There’s something immediately like-able about Wallis, as she struts around the stage. For such a tiny package, she has attitude to burn, and it shows in her performance as she seems totally uninhibited and utterly passionate.

Opening with the energetic, and yet sultry, Made of Sugar, Wallis is in fifth gear from the outset. Following with a track from her debut album, Counting to Sleep is attention grabbing and punchy, two aspects of performance Wallis Bird is not lacking. Onstage banter is her specialty, greeting the crowd with “we’re all so close up by each other that I hope you can… I don’t know… smell me”. And the banter didn’t stop there. Dotting her set with Mary McAleese impressions, stories about sex in tents, and a demonstration of sensual reading for your lover, there’s no shortage of banter to back up the music. Introducing the track Ghosts of Memories as “cheesy and shit”, and Oh River of Paper as “the pretentious part of the set” before swanning around attempting to look deep and artistic, it’s obvious there’s nothing pretentious about this woman.

One of her bigger singles To my Bones is preceded by an amazing beatbox/rap solo by Wallis’s drummer, until bursting into the track with masses of vigour, joined by a chorus of fans singing along with every word. Wallis Bird just proves repeatedly that playing music for the love of music is the means to offering top performances. Combining her love with her huge personality, you can be guaranteed a top show from this lady. Even directly combating those few audience members who felt the need to chat through the set, Wallis launches herself offstage for her encore to play just for them, positioning herself mid-crowd amidst a circle of incredulous fans for the track In Dictum, and the absolute silence as she plays signals that this approach was definitely the right one.

Love her or hate her, Wallis Bird is one performer who knows how to put on a show. With reams of personality, attitude and character, this musician is one who can hold anyone’s attention, and when joined by her very talented band, she certainly puts on a show that is tough to beat. Including her audience in almost every aspect of her performance, including bringing a small but wonderful choir she found in NUIM onstage from the crowd, no one could leave this gig feeling like they hadn’t participated. Wallis’s passion is infectious, and that certainly showed in what was to be one of Dublin’s top gigs of 2012.


Photo: Abe Tarrush (from previous gig in The Academy)