The chill was beginning to take hold on waiting members of the public by the time Wexford songwriter Wallis Bird took centre stage; but within moments her powerful vocals, the original use of instrumentation and unpredictability had everyone on the edge of their seats.
Earlier, support act Rhob Cunningham strode among the seats and sang a beautiful falsetto rendition of The Wind That Shakes The Barley, which Cunningham learned from his aunt growing up. This rendition struck such a chord that moments after its final notes; the only thing breaking the blissful silence was the humming of a freezer.
From there, Cunningham, with the support of a drummer, delivered an impressive set of heartfelt numbers, some of which were getting their live premiere. His character and personality were the shining lights brightening up the ever-darkening sky, and his raspy, Dylan-esque vocals were as impressive as they were unexpected. Tracks such as The Divided saw Cunningham shoot through them like a train, a whirr of movement and strums. By his final number, Withered on The Vine, it was impossible not to have become a fan, through force of character alone. It was the perfect note with which to start the most remarkable of evenings.
When the headline act did eventually take to the stage after what felt like an ever-so-slightly delayed start, she too began her set acapella. A disco ball hung from the ceiling as Bird sang her opening track Hope, reflecting the light bouncing from the exotic collection of forestry that formed the backdrop. As the track reached its epic chorus, the crowd were quick to jump aboard, returning the chorus with aplomb. With six albums worth of material, it was always going to be difficult to predict what Bird would play next; but within minutes she had already showcased her incredible versatility, and her unique power to captivate a room and turn even the most hushed of settings into something reminiscent of a late ’90s house party.
Jumping from genre to genre effortlessly, moments of bass-heavy nightclub fare were quickly submerged by alt-folk, layered and looped vocals reminiscent of the work of Blood Bank-era Bon Iver. Tracks such as Come Back Home and Live Your Life had the place exploding with sound; while the more personal moments felt as though the artist was speaking to you alone. Highlights include a reunion between Wallis and former bandmate Aoife Kelleher, who joined her onstage to relive old times with a rendition of The Circle.
Another highlight was a short instrumental section, with Bird playing a combination of organ/keys and the trumpet simultaneously. Somehow, without saying a word, she was able to tap into a deep sense of emotion. Across her 90 minute set, Bird had something for everyone. It felt like throwing on your favourite playlist; you didn’t know what genre or style was coming next, whether it was pop, folk, electronica or just feet to the floor bass. No matter what it was, it felt familiar. It felt pure. Before you knew it, you were tapping your feet once more.
There are few performers in Ireland with the strength in depth, in songwriting, musicianship and willingness to try new things; that Bird possesses. It was a treat to behold throughout, even when it was clear she was messing with her vocal pitching and speed just for the sake of it. For the joy of trying something new. She was totally in her element, and one would expect her to have acted the exact same were there no audience in attendance.
To see Wallis Bird is to see an artist at the top of her game. Unafraid of taking chances, unafraid of making mistakes and unafraid of being herself. As the evening drew to a close, Bird started taking requests from those in attendance and it was made clear once more how fully she was in the zone. An artist at their peak. Wallis Bird is a must-see artist. You never know what you’re going to get.