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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Live Review, 8/2/12: The Mynabirds Fly High at Cafe Du Nord

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2012 at 10:29 AM

The Mynabirds at Cafe Du Nord last night. Rebecca Marie Miler is the singer on the left; Laura Burhenn is on the right.
  • The Mynabirds at Cafe Du Nord last night. Rebecca Marie Miler is the singer on the left; Laura Burhenn is on the right.

The Mynabirds

Deep Time

Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012

Cafe Du Nord

Better than: Messianic beardo hippie-soul-bros.

Even when she's singing about leaden topics like war and political apathy, The Mynabirds' Laura Burhenn seems to soar, vocally and even physically. Last night at Cafe Du Nord, this impression came partly due to the fact that the singer's long, narrow body stood perched upon both an impressive set of wedge heels and a wooden platform on top of the stage, making both her and co-singer Rebecca Marie Miller seem to tower royally over the crowd.

But it's Burhenn's voice that most seems to defy gravity: It is low and rich, able to rush up to the higher registers, but strongest in the midrange, where Burhenn moves with an effortless, bluesy feel that belies her age. Matched with the Mynabirds' classic, keyboard-driven soul -- the band is named after a '60s group that for a while included both Neil Young and Rick James -- Burhenn's songs feel like just the music you'd expect to radiate from America's heartland. Which, of course, it does: Burhenn is based in Omaha, and the Mynabirds' two albums were released by the city's Saddle Creek label.

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After an excellent, underrated debut of hazy country-rock and gently throbbing soul, the Mynabirds moved toward electronics, distorted guitars, and political themes on this year's follow-up, Generals. The transition was more awkward onstage last night than it is on the band's strong recordings: For songs like "Wolf Mother," the lone guitarist would step on a stompbox and suddenly push things into a weird nexus of Sabbath and soul. "Disarm" built on a synthy electronic beat to burst into a satisfying personal-political chorus: "My love, Aren't you tired of arguing?"

Of all the new, beat-driven songs, "Radiator Sister" is the most kinetic: "This next song is a dance song," Burhenn said to introduce it, and although its jerky, dragging-in-time funk didn't quite spark a shimmy-off, it did more to move the crowd than any other tune.

Burhenn's band -- especially drummer Nicole Childrey and singer/percussionist Miller -- at times challenged the singer for the spotlight, but the best moments of the set came when Burhenn's voice rose up and out on its own. Like on "L.A. Rain," a swiftly grooving soul highlight from the debut album, and "Buffalo Flower," whose slow vamping gave Burhenn plenty of time to unravel her golden tones at their northernmost possible register, pausing for a moment at a high place, and making gravity seem to stop, too.

Critic's Notebook

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Opener: Deep Time suffered car trouble and got to the venue after most of the crowd had arrived, making for a tense shuffle as the band's two members carried their gear in through the throngs. The delay didn't help their already nervous-seeming disposition, but the duo's flitting, homespun indie pop made for a fun, weird entree to the evening. Their set was too short and hurried to feel like we got a full taste of their sound, though.

A description of fog you haven't heard before: Burhenn introduced "Body of Work" -- which includes the lyric, "you can be wild horses on that hill" -- by describing the band's drive into San Francisco earlier in the day. Of the tide of fog cresting Peninsula hills, she said, "It looked like wild horses galloping into the ether."

The crowd: Was much larger and more diverse than the last time the band played Cafe Du Nord, in 2010.

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