Wallis Bird at Whelan’s Dublin, 24th January 2018
Wallis Bird took to the stage in Whelan’s on as part of this years’ Trad Fest. Stepping out under the lights unassumingly to a warm response, she is joined by three others – an eclectic mix of people and instruments.
Her set opens quietly, using only harmonies and the finger clickings of her band to support her. At first, the crowd are slightly disengaged, a definite downside to coming under the trad fest umbrella. Tourists are there for a night out and continue to talk loudly over her but she puts up a world of a fight for their attention and by the end of I Can Be Your Man she’s thrashing about with two tambourines and the beads of sweat start to form along her brow as she commands a stage that, after more than 10 years in the business, she is no stranger to.
Without any introduction, she makes use of the silence and softly begins The Deep Reveal from her latest album ‘Home’. The talent of not only herself, but the musicians around her, is very evident and although she is still the centre-piece, her bands vocals and versatility are the perfect addition.
A guitar is placed firmly in her hands as she dives into the third offering on her setlist. She’s bursting with energy and enthusiasm and her vocals amplify filling the entire room – reaching heights more than difficult for most. Her range really is something to behold and is arguably better live than after any amount of production.
Despite this, she is incredibly humble, thanking the audience at regular intermissions and acknowledging the odd “shhh”, directed at the lesser fans in the room, with a coy smile.
Trumpet, clarinet, bass, violin and more are all introduced at different stages as the group work their way through the setlist seamlessly. Bird uses a loop pedal excellently throughout the gig, bringing to our attention that it’s not just exclusively for the likes of Ed Sheeran.
She asks the audience for requests while wrly claiming that she “might not be able to do that one”. The music ranges from larger-than-life to calm and controlled. It’s hard to believe that only four people can exude such a sound and that Bird can maintain such an energy over almost three hours.
The crowd responds when she asks them to, creating an eight part harmony amongst the audience members to wrap up Change, the first single from ‘Home’, which she delivers sitting on the side of the stage. Even for Whelan’s, the level of intimacy is unique and it feels as though you’ve stumbled upon a sing-song in someone’s front room with friends. Particularly when she delivers Home completely acappella. “Dear mother/ god in heaven/ you’re one hell of a woman,” is met with supportive cheers from the audience.
When she jumps back up and grabs her guitar again, the small venue is filled to the brim with the noises of Circle, Encore and Hardly Hardly. Strings break, sweat pumps and she lengthens the songs by almost double, feeding off the crowds enthusiasm and participation – “Yis are fucking deadly!” she confesses.
The 35 year old looks 10 years younger as she instructs us all to “take a deep breath” before conducting us in to To My Bones. Her plectrum flies from her grip half way through but the crowds singing doesn’t falter for a second while she retrieves it and by the end of the song she has exhausted both herself and her band with a fiery, passionate performance. If anyone ever has really loved life to their bones, you’d have to assume it’s Wallis Bird as she’s left standing breathless, shimmering from sweat.
Not dissimilar to other Irish musicians, for her encore she steps away from the mic, alone and begins In Dictum. There is not a whisper to be heard amongst the crowd – the less interested already gone for buses home and drinks elsewhere. Her band join her only for harmonies mid-way through. “There are devils inside/ That I’m not afraid to meet/ There are devils outside/ that I’m not ashamed to be/ But the more you hold on to me/ I’ll try not to leave” – and with that, after almost three hours, she was finished.
Photo from: Wallis Bird at The Academy, Dublin, 25th April 2014