Last Wednesday, fog began spreading throughout The Magic Bag maybe 20 minutes after Field Report’s Christopher Porterfield left the stage. Porterfield had set the stage (so to speak) expertly, filling the cozy venue with the soft sounds of acoustic folk while patrons quietly filed in, ordering drinks and finding seats or empty patches of wall to lean on and watch. The mood of the room was already not only attentive, but appreciative — this was going to be a good night, plain and simple — a night of good music inside a good place.
When Jade Bird took the stage, it was without fanfare. She greeted the crowd with a cheerful wave and dove immediately into her opening song, the gentle and somber “What Am I Here For.” For an opening song, it was surprisingly intimate, but it laid the emotional groundwork for the rest of the night, which included plenty of intimate moments.
The British singer-songwriter released her debut EP, Something American, last Jul., and she is already leaving quite an impression on the world of folk rock, and on music in general. After opening earlier this year for both First Aid Kit and Son Little, Bird is touring America on her own. Her show at The Magic Bag in Ferndale was one in a long line of stops across the U.S., and came only a few days after her 21st birthday.
One of the intriguing things about Bird as a musician is, to put it a little too simply, her artistic range. Her energy is impossible to ignore, whether it comes across through the pitch-perfect spite of songs like “Uh Huh” and “Good Woman” or through the soft, measured honesty of “Furious” and “What Am I Here For.” This all comes through in her unshakeable live performances. Even with a relatively limited number of songs out, she explores full spectrums of jealousy, kindness, anger, empathy, self-assurance, insecurity and hope.
What makes this exploration artful is that her songs are never grounded exclusively in one emotion. The slowest, softest songs in her oeuvre are still not without some bite, and her angriest songs wouldn’t pack the same punch if they didn’t carry a little tenderness. She does this all well because she does it with variety, curiosity and an ability to recognize and to express all of the facets of a single experience.
At one point on Wednesday, Bird’s bandmates left the stage so that she could perform a couple of songs alone — including “If I Die,” an as-yet-unreleased track including lines like, “I’m never that far away from you.” She has an undeniable stage presence that easily translated into a positive dynamic between her and the audience. To put it plainly, Bird is charming — it’s impossible to walk away from a live performance of hers without the impression that she has thought carefully about what she wants to share with us, and that she absolutely loves what she’s doing.
Adding to the magic was the fact that her band all seemed to share in this sentiment. The group had terrific chemistry, often interacting onstage, clustering together in a huddle at one point toward the climax of an energetic song. One memorable image happened during a cover of The Bangles’s “Walk Like an Egyptian” (released earlier this year as a Spotify Single), when Bird and her bassist faced each other while belting out the final chorus.
Bird covered one other song, “I’ve Been Everywhere” (famously performed by Johnny Cash) during her encore (alongside the yearning “Something American”). The rest of the show consisted of original songs, including several gems that have yet to be officially released: the fed-up “Love Has All Been Done Before,” the playful “Good At It” and “Side Effects,” to name a few. “I’m not sure who I am,” Bird sang in “Ruins,” a sentiment that seemed to beckon the audience to join her. None of us are sure of ourselves to an extent, but there are other things we can be sure of, given the right moment: each other, for one thing, and the feeling of a good night. Bird gave us many of those moments.
Another standout was “Going Gone,” the final song before the encore. “We’re going to play one more song for you tonight, but it’s going to be a fun one,” Bird told the audience, and she was true to her word. It was the perfect sentiment, the perfect takeaway: The night was ending, but rather than be sad about it, we were going to be thankful for the moment we were in. We were going to have fun.
Jade Bird is a rock star for the world of folk. Every performance was visceral and unforgettable. Over the course of the night, Bird showed us flashes of her different sides: charm, wrath, inspiration, all sorts of love. When she played “Lottery,” one of her most recent and popular singles, the entire crowd sang along. The sense of community buoyed through the room along with the high, sailing notes of the chorus.
The Magic Bag was the perfect venue for the night. Not only for its close, communal feel, or its smoky atmosphere and neon lights, which Bird delightedly pointed out at one moment — herself marooned in the fog that hung about the stage. It was also the perfect place because of its very name. In her songwriting and in her performing, Jade Bird is just that — magic — and even this early in her career, it’s clear that she’s on track to leaving an indelible mark on the world of folk music.