Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds with Pickup at Sullivan Hall 6-23-10

After beginning the evening by listening to fantastic performances from jazz titans McCoy Tyner, Ravi Coltrane, Esperanza Spalding, Francisco Mela, Stanley Clarke, and Hiromi from the perch of a large rock outside of Central Park’s Summerstage, I made my way down to the Village to grab a refreshing Great Divide Belgian IPA and a bowl of 7 Pepper Chili at Blind Tiger Ale House. Then I ventured on to the evening’s main event at Sullivan Hall.

Toy Soldiers were the listed openers on this bill, but they did not show. They had some sort of van breakdown in Philly. It was their loss, not ours. Way to blow your New York venue debut, guys.

Pickup with Trevor Exeter and John Kimock was a little heady but not too esoteric. It didn’t seem to grab most of my fellow Freaks (and I’d say there were around 15-20 in attendance), who were hanging outside during most of the set. Trevor was singing while playing some weird arpeggios that were run through a series of pedals to create a sort of electronica sound. It was unique, and I enjoyed it. They closed with a very short cover of a well-known Bill Withers tune, which I don’t quite recall but believe was “Use Me.”

As for Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, I will forever label this show as “The Awakening” because while I’ve had a great time at their shows in the past, this was the one where I really got it. In talking to some of their longtime fans, I learned that last night’s set wasn’t particularly “better” than others, but the environment was certainly one of the best the band’s had at any of their shows. The room was far from full, but everyone pressed up to the front and most of us danced our asses off. It was a bigger than usual stage for them, and they filled it out well with lead singer Arleigh Kincheloe taking charge and commanding attention.

I really love how this band is an incredibly tight nine-piece ensemble that works so well together, yet all of its members are polished enough that they can really seize the moment when given the spotlight for solos. For whatever reason, that seems to be an anomaly among most bands– either they’re an all-star lineup of people needing room to shine or they’re the kind of ensemble where the whole is far greater than the individual parts. I get the sense that while the Dirty Birds are particularly skilled at playing together, you could cherrypick a couple of them and start a great trio or quartet with little effort.

And Arleigh’s performance had me simply transfixed. There was one moment when I was thinking, “You know, this young lady could really…wait a sec…oh….wow…did she just…uh-huh…yes…wow….just…wow…I hope no one saw me drool all over myself…Hell, I don’t care, I can’t look away….wait…oh, man….damn….can’t she just stand still and act a little less sultry for just one second? I was about to think of something brilliant, but I’ve completely lost my train of thought. Thanks a lot!…oh, yes…thank you very, very much….”

To be perfectly honest, I had to stay off to the side because I was afraid of how much power she could potentially wield over me by making eye contact. From my vantage point, her performance was nothing short of spellbinding, and without thinking, I would have cut out someone’s vital organs with a butter knife if she’d asked me to do so. I’ve seen Arleigh on stage before, and I’ve hung out with her a few times at Jazz Fest, but I’ve never seen her demonstrate such a heightened level of raw sexuality.

The only knock I’d put on her is for less-than stellar diction, as I often had a hard time deciphering lyrics. Part of that seems to be a vocal choice that she’s made (because she certainly speaks normally), but I would throttle that back just a tad for clarity’s sake. Otherwise, she shouldn’t change a damn thing.

If you want a funky, reggae/ska-infused evening steaming with the scent of late night seduction, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds are the band for you.

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