Review and video by Joel Patterson
Familiarity breeds contempt? I don’t THINK so.
The more time I spend with the Catbirds, both individually and collectively, the more deeply I fall under their spell. The sound they make drives twenty-something girls into feats of athletic frenzy, and their boyfriends to dive head-first toward the stage. It roars in with all the gentleness of a hurricane, loud and slamming and savage. You might mistakenly think people who play that blaring, thunderous rock and roll music all night are somehow brutes, at least a little brusque, if not totally downright beastly – you couldn’t be more wrong. These are four of the most sensitive, vulnerable spirits – with curious eyes wide open to the world – that you’ll ever meet in the time-space continuum.
I frankly grew up in an era when the musicians you followed and admired were intensely remote figures. I think our idolatry warped everything. They would take the stage, and we were all suddenly in a different world, a euphoria. On their off-hours, their songs narrated our lives on our car radios and at our parties. They were heroes, more than singers, if you really want to know, like sports stars or legendary outlaws. So then, enter the modern era – something at first is jarring to see Chandler Travis before the show, just mixing with the crowd, greeting friends, a human no different from you or me.
So somewhere in the back of my mind, tucked into one of its parietal lobes, I’m sure I think of Chandler Travis as the captain of a pirate ship. Dinty Childs is his trusty multi-instrumentalist first mate, a seasoned salt of the sea. Rikki Bates is the half-crazed drummer maniac, the most forceful and daring cat on board, who would climb up in a lightning storm to the crow’s nest if necessary. And Steve Wood is the burly worker man who coils the ropes and shreds, who could pull the ship, single-handedly swimming with one of those ropes, if conditions required, on the stormy sea of life. Eye patches, peg legs, all of it.
And yet, sitting around after the show, I wonder aloud if somehow the phrase “in the catbird’s seat” played a role in choosing their name – not, as it turned out, but Dinty got up from the table, consulted his computer, and returned with the news that the phrase originated in the South with the observation that catbirds would perch at the ends of tree limbs for the best view, and James Thurber immortalized the phrase in a story. The conversation glided into advice they’ve given their kids about navigating the temptations of youth, about the joys and trials of pets and horses, and certain non-negotiable clam chowder do’s and don’ts.
Bold, swarthy ruffians? Sure. And pussycats.