Birdsongs cross barriers in varied musical styles
Review by David Daley, The Hartford Courant
Music has become just as fragmented as our politics and culture. Open a copy of Billboard magazine, and you’ll discover that even the tiniest genre is broken down into even smaller marketing niches.

Boston’s Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, who dazzled an enthusiastic crowd at Real Art Ways’ Hutensky Theater Saturday, helped break down many of the artificial barriers that separate rock, jazz, improvisational and classical music. If Beethoven or Iggy Pop had been in the house, they would have jumped on stage to jam.

The bad boys of chamber music actually look a lot like middle-aged college professors. They’re smart enough to put music theory into practice, breaking epic songs into tantalizing four- and five-minute pieces, enough to whet the appetite of chamber music fans without losing those with rock ‘n’ roll’s short attention span.

But with roots in the Boston punk scene, formed out of the ashes of the legendary Mission of Burma after band members started developing hearing problems, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic also manage to puncture the pomposity of high culture.

They covered “Our Prayer,” penned by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and even Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” theme. During the “Peter Gunn” theme, keyboardist Erik Lindgren pounded so hard that the instrument’s stand gave way. Instead of a virtuoso’s pout, Lindgren scowled for merely a second, then kept playing with his feet. The band cut the songs a little short after that, but managed to keep going without a hitch.

The set, divided into two nearly equal halves, spanned the band’s entire 15-year career, and even several new songs from their forthcoming 10th album, “Dancing On A’A.” Each song explores an astounding range of rhythms and emotions. “The Readymen’s” windswept keyboards varied from eerie and mysterious to celebratory, electronic music with a profoundly human feel. Guitarist Michael Bierylo’s guitar squelched through “Beat of the Mesozoic – part one“, while Ken Field’s saxophone punctuated the beat with brief melodic bursts.

It’s Field’s sax that tugs the band toward the avant garde and earned them the experimental label. He was at his best during songs like “Birdgam” and “Pleasure Island,” twisting and contorting quickly and sharply blown notes into interesting new shapes. In many ways, what he does is the equivalent of the rock guitarists from bands like My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth, who create new tones and textures out of oddly tuned guitars.

The band’s polyrhythmic percussion stands out as well; they seem capable of making music out of anything. All four members played drums or other percussive instruments in the middle of “Beat of the Mesozoic.” Keyboardist Lindgren was a delight to watch. He pounded a complex rhythm just with hand-claps, usually a symbol of pop music simplicity, then twisted his hands over a theremin to add more high-pitched noises.

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