Live review: Breathe Owl Breath @ The Fungarden, Sacramento, USA

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There’s something about America that leads venue owners to supply junk food alongside live music — and so a few weeks ago I found myself watching folk bands at a pizza place. Noise and tomatoey smells drifted across from the eating area, thankfully not detracting from the music but kind of adding a curious atmosphere to the night.

Picture 6Support came from Northern Californian musician Sea of Bees. With a set up of acoustic guitar and vocals, her live sound seemed more a part of the recent resurgence in pop-folk. A friend did join in with electric guitar on a few songs, giving them the nice rock kick that’s in her recordings. The simple but great show included a slightly eerie version of ‘Gnomes’ and a soft, melodic ‘Wizbot.’ Sea of Bees’ live voice is fantastic, clearly influenced by the greats like Joni and Joan, and on par with Alela Diane or Jolie Holland. Among her contemporaries, if pushed to compare, the most similar sounding is probably Alessi’s Ark. Some hints of country and a CSNY/Youngish fuzziness alongside the interesting vocals. The live music is a bit emptier without a backing band, so I’m looking forward to the forthcoming album Songs for the Ravens on Crossbill Records.

With a few years and several polished releases under their belt, Breathe Owl Breathe have recently started winning recognition from the online music press. Their three-piece is made up of guitar, cello and drums, plus they threw in the occasional keyboard or gargling noise for affect. Most songs featured perfect male-female harmonies and there were a few brilliant triple-layered moments. The show was much more eccentric than I expected… they began by making sea noises and asking the audience to sway as if on a boat. They donned hand-made capes, played guitar through a karaoke speaker and taught us the Sabretooth Tiger dance move, which all seem to be making light of their music. But while half the lyrics had a childlike glee about them, the other half was filled with heartbroken laments.

The folksy naivety of the words was complimented by skilled musicianship, touring experience and huge confidence. From the roundedness of their songs, like the mournful-yet-happy ‘Playing Dead,’ it’s clear why the US is falling for them. ‘Drop and Roll’ was so amazing I had to google the words to check it wasn’t a cover of some old folk song. Breathe Owl Breathe are releasing a new album soon and hope to come to the UK later this year.

Words: Alice Knapp

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