Wings of Desire
You'd think a band that just opened for the Cult on a theater tour across the country; a band that was such the bomb (in the good, street-slang sense) when they did the same for Veruca Salt on a recent club trek that they returned to headline those same clubs a few weeks later; a band with fans who are obsessed/psychotic enough to drive from Omaha to Minneapolis just to see them play for 45 minutes at the Warped Tour (to say nothing of the guy who flew from Traverse City, Michigan, to Detroit to hang out with them, only to get really schnockered and forget his shoes); a band whose debut album was co-produced by Richard Dashut (as in Richard "The guy who produced Fleetwood Mac's kazillion-jillion-selling Rumours album" Dashut); a band that weighed offers from several major labels before smartly signing with an indie whose people did totally weird, weird shit like remember their names and return their phone calls; a band that has had its songs spun on the BBC; that wowed a gaggle of nobodies at South By Southwest; that has pockets of fans in Europe; that has an agent at William Morris; that played live on The Mitch Albom Show on MSNBC; that has been recognized by complete strangers in airports; that gets invited to Gene Simmons' 50th-birthday party and asked to judge the Miss Rio contest in Las Vegas with going-downhill-fast celebs like Charlie Sheen and Steven Seagal—you'd think this band would be mega, all over radio, all over MTV.
You'd think. Someday, maybe, but for Long Beach power trio Bird3, that someday isn't today, though at the rate they're going, it'll be here soon enough.
While they've indeed done all that aforementioned stuff in the past year—most of it in just the past few months—all that matters tonight, at least, is their gig at the Blue Cafe. There's Greg Coates—late of Mickey's Big Mouth, 12 Hour Mary, the Dibs and pretty much any LBC band that doesn't require a wifebeater tank to join—flailing his fingers around his bass frets. There's Mike Miley—another Long Beach scenester, a co-founder of Delta Nove who has also done time in Bourbon Jones and Shave—whipping his arms across his skins like a chronic masturbator. And there's mysterious, enigmatic singer/guitarist Bird (we could've found out his real name, but then it wouldn't have been very mysterious or enigmatic), a crazed Argentinean who always plays with big, white, floppy bird wings strapped to his back—mmmm, conceptual!
Were it not for the music, which packs a welt-raising wallop, Bird's wings would be a jokey distraction. But that music—loud, crunchy, gorgeously melodic, filled with magnificent rock & roll anthems, jazz accentuations, near-arias, pained lyrics, grand sweeping statements, '60s/'70s classic rock, pretty ballads, spacey improv jams, pop songs, punk songs, pop-punk songs, and gospel movements, all kicked out with the kind of whiplash time changes that separate the real players from the poseurs—makes for some terribly good noise. Except when it's great noise—and it usually is.
Bird3's self-titled album came out in June (along with a version on 5.1 DVD audio, making Bird3 possibly the first band to release new material in both formats), an indelibly catchy disc full of could-be smashes.
Styles frequently clash on the thing, but it's all rock & roll, and it's an album that sounds even better live. So the band has been going off at the Blue, and the crowd—larger than usual for a Monday, it seems—is not only screaming the words out loud but also finishing Bird's lines for him. Bird responds by frequently falling to the stage and thrashing about. Most of the songs are veined with blown-it-with-a-girl themes, loaded with lines about unrequited love, people changing, good lovin' gone bad and bad lovin' gone to shit. Some tunes are great fake-outs, like "Girl Next Door," a giddy power-pop tune that masks a tale of severe self-doubt and low self-esteem. "Indoor" is a bit deeper, all about questioning religion and your own belief systems. "Take It Easy" is a snarling, Gish-era Smashing Pumpkins rocker that powers down into a quiet folkie introspection phase, followed by ethereal, organ-washed spirituality and finally diving back down into a venom-soaked finish. Near the end of the hour-plus set, Bird winds up on the floor and in the audience, handing his guitar over to anyone who looks like they'd rather be in the band instead of standing around watching.
He's an exhausted ball of sweat, this Bird; no wonder he doesn't make our interview two days later. But it's okay—that mysterious, enigmatic thing again. He's helping a friend move, Greg and Mike explain over lunch at the Blue. So we're left with the rhythm section's version of the truth when we ask the question that everyone's gotta know: What's up with those frickin' wings?
"Bird started wearing them in part because, when you put on a costume, you become someone else, something different," Greg explains. "He's a very passionate, emotional singer, and I think it helps him transcend himself, to arrive at a place where he can feel comfortable letting it all come out. And when he does, for us, it's like we're playing on a different level. It helps us bring out 100 percent every night. He also tries to put a show on and entertain, like David Bowie or Peter Gabriel or Alice Cooper."
Okay, fair enough. The wings stay. Then there's the matter of the band's rather awkward official name, Bird3. The number was tacked on to what had been a perfectly decent moniker for copyright reasons, Greg confides. "It was a trademark thing. As a band name, 'Bird' was just too diluted, so with merchandising, if we just went by Bird, people could easily make bootleg T-shirts and sell them because we wouldn't own the name."
That's a small speed bump on Bird3's roadway to rock stardom, though. They seem to have everything going for them—most important, in Immergent, they have a label that gives them all the love they need.
"There are just a few other artists on the label, so they can give us lots of attention," says Greg. "It's made up of a lot of ex-major-label people who grew sick of the profit-driven machine. It's such a family vibe there, too; it's amazing. I dare any established artist to walk in there and not feel good about what they're walking into. There are people who actually know us and say hello to us."
"Regardless of what happens with the music, they believe in us," Mike says. "It's great to always see smiling people there, people who are happy to see us."
Still, good label karma doesn't automatically translate into radio airplay. Their debut album was released in June, and radio being the cesspool it is, the Birdmen are finding out that a slot in even light rotation is pretty hard to win. "Programmers are telling us that there's just too much traffic, meaning that this is a bad time to break a new band because there are so many already established bands getting airplay," Greg explains. "There's not a lot of room. We're also being told that the songs are either not heavy enough or not light enough, so it's hard to crack radio."
For now, they figure it's best to just keep playing as often as possible, opening more shows, gigging the clubs, gradually building an even wider fan base. Which may soon include even non-English-speaking countries: a Spanish version of the album should be out in a month or so, says Greg, with Bird doing the vocals in his native tongue.
"We did a rock en espaol show at the Martini Lounge in LA one night, and the reaction was . . . well, I'd never seen a reaction like that. People were jumping onstage and screaming and wanting to touch us, these gringos, who were essentially backing up the homeboy."
So Bird3 will get their music heard and their name known via as many channels as they can, even if it comes in the form of a cheesy write-up in, of all places, the new issue of Teen magazine: "Bird3's debut album will engage your senses through an obsessive courtship with your ears (and your eyes—they're cuties). Their crafty mellow rock, tightly cradled by sensitive lyrics, will make any girl swoon. It's definitely love at first listen." Ewww . . . Ah, well—the road to mega is paved with good intentions.
Bird3 performs at Fingerprints Records, 4612b E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 433-4996. Fri., 6 p.m. Free; with Exploiting Eve, CA7 and the Remarks at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $15; and at the Blue Cafe, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111 or (562) 984-8349; www.thebluecafe.com. Mon., 9 p.m. $5. 21+. For more info on Bird3, check out www.bird3.com.
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