Exploring Birdsong at The Exchange, Bristol

Support: Louis Stone| Steve Mercy
September 22, 2021 at The Exchange, Bristol
Promoter: NMC Live

Exploring Birdsong are making quite a name for themselves. A trio comprising Lynsey Ward (vocals, keyboards), Jonny Knight (bass guitar, keyboards), and Matt Harrison (drums, percussion), their late 2019 mini-album The Thing With Feathers piqued interests, positioning the band somewhere between iamthemorning’s chamber prog and the more full on assault of post rock and prog metal. With a run-time amounting to little more than 20 minutes, the record piqued interest, but questions remained come the pandemic as to whether they could develop their sound and move up a league, so to speak, with bigger and more convincing live displays.

On tonight’s evidence, the future for Exploring Birdsong in bright. Preceding the trio Louis Stone takes to the small stage to deliver a spirited and technical solo guitar set. This adequately demonstrates the young guitarist’s skills and gift for melody, but relies too heavily on a backing track to truly excite. Exploring Birdsong also use pre-programmed elements as effectively a ‘fourth player’, but such is the onstage dynamism, this never feels forced, and merely adds to the grandiose stylings coming from the musicians.

The band cover off the three substantial compositions from their debut, and embellish the set with a Mastodon cover version, restyled to play to their strengths, and a host of five new tracks. These, still going by working titles, show a group maturing at a pace. There’s no shortage of time signature changes, with the most complex material often constrained to verses, giving way to rousing, catchy choruses. Crucially, the tracks don’t sound under-rehearsed, and are lapped up by an audience almost certainly hearing these for the first time. Penultimate number ‘The Way Down’ exemplifies Exploring Birdsong’s modus operandi, and will surely sound just as scintillating on record as it does live.

Of the known material, ‘The River’s intricate keyboards mesmerise, whilst ‘The Downpour’, which closes the show, is emotional and epic. Throughout, the musicians impress, with Ward’s voice cutting through the muscular sound, Knight grandstanding on bass and keys at once, and Harrison’s expansive drumming bringing flair and rhythmic emphasis to Exploring Birdsong’s creations. The Bristol date of this tour takes place in the tiny basement of The Exchange. On the basis of this performance, they’ll be back, and if the new record delivers, one suspects they’ll be playing bigger and brighter stages soon. Fans of powerful, piano-driven prog rock should catch them at the earliest opportunity.

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