LIVE: Wallis Bird: Breakin’ Strings and Mendin’ Hearts at Caffè Lena 8/22/2019
There is something incredibly charming about an artist who is as humble and as talented as Wallis Bird. “I’ve had a lot of fun. I’m very lucky,” Wallis Bird told Kelly McCartney during an interview for the Hangin’ and Sangin’ podcast. That fun is a result of hard work. When she was 18 months old, Wallis had an accident where she lost all of the fingers on her left hand. Although three of them were reattached, she wasn’t able to be as dextrous as she would have liked to be able to play guitar. So, she did it her own way. She flipped the script – quite literally in her case. She plays the guitar the opposite way, with her right hand on the frets and the strings upside down. Wallis has a sound that is uniquely her own.
Wallis Bird was pure energy on the stage. Every movement she made added to the music. Every stomp of her foot or snap of her fingers added to the rhythm. She was aware of how each sound worked together, some of which she recorded and looped as she sang over the beats she had made. It was as if she had created her own world of sound, and she had invited us to spend some time in it with her.
The show began with the song “Home.” In this it was only Wallis’s voice filling the space of the Caffè. Yet, as she continued, the show became louder, more kinetic. She would record her vocals, adjusting the echoes and repetitions on a soundboard with her feet as she played, a chorus of voices singing that was entirely her own. She played with this vocal work in the song “The Deep Reveal” from her album Home, which she said she wrote in a basement in Britain over the course of a week. Wallis said it was about working on a relationship, putting in the effort to make it right. “Basically,” she said, “It’s about working on me’self.”
Wallis expressed gratitude for her team, composed of Tracey and Aidan. The two worked as an incredible support system for her throughout the evening. They would join her on stage to sing with her providing back-up vocals or beats into the microphone. They were also integral in keeping Wallis’s instruments strung. During the interview before the show, Wallis joked that she was known for breaking guitar strings while she played. She broke three while performing, which would explain why she was flanked by two guitars, enabling her to switch between one and the other while Tracey and Aidan worked to restring the guitar. At one point, during the song “Woman,” Aidan switched the guitar he had just repaired as Wallis was playing since she had broken the string on the back-up. It was clear they were a cohesive unit, because they passed guitars off without Wallis having to miss strumming a single chord.
Despite this being her first time playing at Caffè Lena, Wallis was comfortable in the space, welcoming participation from the audience. One young lady, Eva, joined her on the stage to sing along. Visually, she was a frenetic masterpiece, her finger work on the guitar blurringly fast, her whole body brought into every note she played. Her lyrics were powerful, sticking with you long after, rolling through your mind to provide you succor when you’re feeling particularly low. Her lyrics were personal, taken from the lessons she had learned and the work she had done on herself. For this reason, they seemed all the more human.
Everything she did was seamless. Her transitions between songs were smooth and practiced, each one bleeding into the other so you didn’t even realize it was happening. Her team was an integral part of this, joining her on the stage without fuss or noise. Her movements were intentional. Even when she rested the guitar on the stage, she did it for a reason. She used the reverberations of the last chord she had played as her music for the next song. With a stomp of her foot, she would increase the volume, letting it linger for longer.
Wallis made the intimate space of the Caffè feel so much larger Thursday night. She filled it with every fiber of her being, making it more than just a show, but an experience.
To listen to the Hangin’ and Sangin’ podcast: http://hanginandsangin.org/
Songs of Note: Salve, Woman, Home, As the River Flows