David Byrne gave a TED talk five years ago exploring the relationship between the changing architecture of venues and the evolution of music — watch it; he’s brilliant — and asking the question, “Does the venue make the music?” Byrne’s answer is an unequivocal yes. Last night at the Swedish American Music Hall, indie-pop band The Mynabirds (Saddle Creek), touring their new album Lover’s Know, could have been a case study for this inquiry; the two distinct styles of songs played fared so differently in the Hall’s grand ballroom. All of them were good, but the ones that fit the venue were stupendously good, and I finally understood the use of the word “bird” in their name, as singer Laura Burhenn’s vocals spread albatross-wide and lifted me a’flight.
The grand ballroom, built in 1907 as a meeting place for the Swedish Society of San Francisco, features dark oak wainscoting 7′ high on every wall, intricate woodwork on its balcony, and is flanked by imposing thrones of a similarly dark oak. The stage is small. The walls are bare. There isn’t much to break up sound, which creates a problem not so much for fast songs, as for fast changing songs, songs with lots of lyrics, or quick turn arounds. Of the Mynabirds 14 songs, about half fit this category. They were good songs, mixing in with their pop sound some classic rock, and bringing to mind Grace Slick, early Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, and Pink Floyd. There were politics, an ode to California, and there was a little bit of Motown on my favorite of these tunes, “Numbers Don’t Lie.” But, these songs needed a bigger stage and less alive acoustics to let their superpowers out. Read More