WA alt-rockers Birds of Tokyo have done plenty in their 15-year existence, but a symphonic tour is something completely foreign and new, so frontman Ian Kenny admitted they were “shitting bricks” with their first few shows at the idyllic Perth Concert Hall over the weekend.
Birds of Tokyo’s symphonic tour commenced on Thursday night with the WA Symphony Orchestra (WASO) and The AU Review was in attendance for their second show on Friday night, with the cobwebs blown out and nerves settled. As pianist-guitarist Glenn Sarangapany delicately put it, those “bricks” had turned into “little stones”.
Perth’s Concert Hall, which was sold out close to its 1,700 capacity with COVID-19 social distancing in place, invites a level of formality to any show, with ushers buzzing around the 30-odd rows of stalls below another few hundred patrons viewing from the staggered lower and upper galleries.
Indeed, it was a dramatic change of scenery for Birds of Tokyo who’ve developed a strong domestic alt-rock fanbase, especially within their hometown, who aren’t the types to regularly frequent the Concert Hall. Plus Birds were playing alongside a 40-strong orchestra thus this wasn’t the norm for Ian Kenny and co, so expectations were reserved but optimistic for a band who’ve been formidable over the past decade.
The band entered the stage greeted by a beautiful strings intro from the orchestra of niche Universes opener “Uno” and a controlled applause from the audience, before Kenny’s soft vocals offered up “Broken Bones” with a majestic build-up setting the tone for the evening.
The stage was covered in red lighting as Kenny disposed of his guitar and launched into popular 2011 track “Plans” second up, which had a more slow and subdued pace, highlighted by Adam Weston’s marching drums, Sarangapany’s jumpy piano, WASO’s jolty cellos and the emotive currents from the strings section. This subdued feel was a theme of the night, but it was the necessary blend with WASO.
Kenny eventually greeted the audience, stating the show was a year-and-a-half in the making but they’d had to overcome “a few hurdles” for this world premiere, before launching into the more upbeat “Unbreakable” where Sarangapany stood on his piano imploring the crowd to liven up, which arguably didn’t quite cut through at this point.
That uncertainty was pierced between songs when a crowd member shouted out “can we sing?” which Sarangapany laughed that it was illegal not to! The tension was being eased and the quality of the show begun to really shine as everyone relaxed a notch.
Kenny’s voice has always been a Birds standout and that was allowed to shine in this format, particularly during 2020 single “Dive” when he was left on his own.
There’s no doubt the usual Birds dynamic was challenged by the symphonic merger, leading to a more toned down show from bassist Ian Berney and drummer Weston, but that allowed Kenny’s raw talent and stunning vocals along with Sarangapany’s charisma to shine, with a perfect mix with the flawless orchestra, led by composer Vanessa Scammell.
Further highlights were “I’d Go With You Anywhere” where the strings section nailed the song’s hook wonderfully. The orchestra lifted 2012 hit “Wild At Heart” to another level, with dramatic cymbals crashing from the back of stage, along with gentle brass twinkles to finish.
A small crowd clap-a-long which didn’t quite catch on during “Anchor”, while one of the highlights was the layered drive provided by the orchestra for the emotive “If The Ship Sinks” prior to intermission.
After a 20-minute break, the crowd started to become a tad more raucous with a stripped back version of “The Greatest Mistakes”, with the band imploring a sing-along amid song’s “hey, hey, hey” chorus.
A wonderful upbeat rendition of “Two Of Us” was followed by Scammell stepping in on piano as Sarangapany ran around the stage like a headless chicken during “This Fire”. Sarangapany’s confidence and energy created a much-needed disarming effect.
The final few songs produced some epic orchestral crescendos and crowd sing-alongs, including the moody “Brace” and “Good Lord” which was the ideal song to finish, before the inevitable encore (these become unsuspenseful when the orchestra remains seated) of “Lanterns” where the crowd stood and waved their illuminated phones, with some audience members getting up to dance in the front rows.
This really was a raging success for Birds of Tokyo, with Kenny’s talent and Sarangapany’s charisma working perfectly with the flawless WASO, taking the band’s songs to the next level with emotion and grace. The tour is scheduled to head to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in coming weeks and it’s not to be missed.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The author attended the show on 15th January at the Perth Concert Hall. Dates for the Birds of Tokyo Symphonic Tour continue through February. Head HERE for dates and tickets.