The first time I remember seeing Birds of Tokyo headline a show in Adelaide was back in…2011, I want to say. Ian Berney hadn’t been in the band long and their self-titled, third album was celebrating Platinum status. Since then, my relationship with the band and their music has come and gone in waves. The band I first remember connecting with as a teenager, off the back of 2007’s Day One, was a vastly different band to that of 2015’s Anchor EP and admittedly, I fell off the bandwagon halfway through the March Fires cycle.
Still, when 2016 brought with it a new album for Birds, I was willing to listen and see what direction they’d gone in on Album Five. What I was met with was a slap in the face. A bucket of water to the face. This was a band who’d taken a sharp left out of the comfort zone commercial radio success provided and decided to get dirty. While the title track “Brace” could be easily lifted from the pages of Muse circa Black Holes and Revelations, the fusion of striking guitar and steely electronic elements sent a strong message: Birds of Tokyo shouldn’t be categorised easily.
So here I found myself at the Thebarton Theatre on a Friday night where there seemed to be a heap of big name shows happening around the city. The venue was heavily undersold, it has to be said, but even so, the fans who had arrived early were enthusiastic and kept a solid vibe going throughout. Sydney’s Strangers were entering the second half of their set when I arrived, a band I probably last saw around 2011 as well. Talk about a throwback. 21 year old me would have been in her goddamned element.
The music was hard hitting and melodic, with Ben Britton‘s showmanship wrapping the crowd up despite their early start time. Making his way through the crowd at the end of the set, he utilised the venue well in establishing an intimate type of live show environment and the punters got round it all too eagerly.
Come headline set time, the stage had been reset and the Birds of Tokyo light show was being tested. I’ve seen the band experiment and incorporate some pretty interesting lights and visuals into their shows in the past but I was intrigued as to how their new show would match up to the ambitious and rather bombastic nature Brace had indicated.
That it did: an impressive shower of strobe lights, purple and blues shooting across the crowd as the visuals behind the band were as striking as Ian Kenny‘s famous dance moves. The set list satisfied new and old Birds fans, I’m sure of it; classic favourite “Broken Bones” made an appearance early in the set, while the likes of “Silhouettic” and “Ode To Death” also featured.
Of the newer batch, “Harlequins” provided a strong opener, while fellow album track “Crowns” closed out the encore, 16 songs later. An interesting choice to close on, given the well-visited songs many fans no doubt were hoping to hear were rested this time, but if anything, it showed the confidence Birds of Tokyo are clearly approaching this new chapter with.
The set was heavy on the Brace material, with most of the album given its time to shine on stage and watching the band play through the songs, it’s clear they’re loving being able to explore this heavier, new musical dynamic. Where the band is going from here, I don’t know; Brace came so left field for me that I felt like, as I left the venue, I had seen the band for the first time. With the tour just getting started, it’ll be interesting to see what level Birds of Tokyo fly up to by the end of the run.
Birds of Tokyo play The Tivoli in Brisbane on November 25th, two nights at The Croxton in Melbourne (November 26th & 27th) and finally at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre on December 16th.
The reviewer attended the show on November 18th.
Photos by Stuart Sevastos.