LIVE: Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds @ Club Helsinki, 1/16/15
Review and photographs by Fred Rudofsky
Additional photographs by Timothy Reidy
It was a Friday night of perpetual wow moments – grooves and solos so sneaky they could untie your shoe laces; and vocals so sultry that heatstroke was imminent. As for the songs, they ranged from deep soul and funk to holla-to-your-mama blues and hip-hop with a dash of reggae and New Orleans second line strut thrown in for good measure.
Based out of Brooklyn, the seven-piece band led by singer extraordinaire Arleigh “Sister Sparrow” Kincheloe hit it and didn’t quit for over two hours. Opening with “Crawdaddies” was a masterstroke, setting a tone that the party would not wait. Phil Rodriguez (trumpet) and Brian Graham (baritone sax) opened the tune, Jackson Kincheloe cranked up the blues harp, and Sister Sparrow was in full got-ya mode, dancing and singing with gusto. The place went nuts. Shifting gears to a slow, bluesy cadence, the band dug into “Don’t Be Jealous (Just Me and the Fellas)”, and the soul testifying had the crowd singing along. Three new songs from the forthcoming album – “Sugar,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “We Need a Love” – brought a dash of disco, some slide guitar-meets-harmonica blues, and Ann Peebles-styled soul testifying respectively.
By this time, you’d have to have bribed your way on to the dance floor, which was jammed and popping all the way to the edge of the stage. Sasha Brown’s gnarly guitar introduction gave way to the punchy horns and call-and-response moments of fan favorite “The Long Way,” and Jackson’s beat-box harmonica riffing during “Borderline” left many jaws agape. Arleigh gave a shout-out to her parents and family in the audience, then called up her father, John (for the first of many songs) to wield some percussion during a righteous “Mama Knows,” which had a distinct Muscle Shoals vibe to it. Dan B., the drummer who joined the band in late autumn, sounded right at home on “Make It Rain” from Pound of Dirt, teaming up with bassist Josh Myers to set the right foundation for the semi-rapped lyrics and mellow baritone sax interlude before segueing into an uptempo finish that had Sister Sparrow shaking her tambourine among other things.
New songs like “Disappear” (filled with eerie pedal effects-laden blues harp by Jackson), “Ain’t Nobody” (many ears got opened by some Jimmy Page-like slide guitar from Brown), and “Prison Cells” (lyrics were practically whispered at times – tantalizingly so) fit right in with chestnuts like “Lasso” and a spot-on cover of Bonnie Raitt’s early hit “Love Me Like a Man,” which Sister Sparrow delivered in a Betty Davis growl. “Boogie Man” from the 2013 EP Fight had a horn riff that Sly Stone would have endorsed, and Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” got a Little Feat-makeover, with some clever, brief interpolations of Jimi Hendrix’s “Who Knows” thrown in for the discerning music fan. Pogoing across the stage to the stacked horns and deep pocket backbeat, Sister Sparrow closed the set with “Roadtrip,” which evolved into a sing-along denouement that any whiskey-soaked midnight choir would claim as its own.
“We’re not done yet! We’re not going to let you walk out into that cold!” exclaimed a drenched-in-sweat Sister Sparrow to howls of approval. The lyrics to “My House” from the band’s 2010 eponymous debut were sung with such fervor they seemed directed at someone in the audience: “Remember the days when we would just lie in bed?/ Those warm sweet thoughts are still all up in my head/ But it’s so cold out tonight/And without you, my baby, I don’t feel right.” The encore of “Bulldozer” (an instrumental blues harp freak-out melding urban and country styles) and “Too Much” (imagine a lost Stax 45 brought to life) closed out the night with a few exclamation points.
NOTE: Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds are scheduled to wing their way back to Nippertown for a show at the Hollow Bar + Kitchen in Albany at 9:30pm on Saturday, March 28. Tickets are $12 in advance; $15 at the door.
SISTER SPARROW & THE DIRTY BIRDS SET LIST
Don’t Be Jealous (Just Me and the Fellas)
Catch Me If You Can
We Need a Love
The Long Way
Make It Rain
Love Me Like a Man (Chris Smither)
You Don’t Know How It Feels (Tom Petty)
Bulldozer / Too Much