Live Review: Darkbird at Cheer up Charlie's in Austin, TX

Material: Darkbird blends sharp, intense instrumentals with delicate vocals for a "fleshed out musical experience. With a predominant alternative rock vibe, the band’s original material sends listeners on a moody, reflective journey through cruel love and heartache. The band is able to convey that somber message with fiery passion and alluring vocals.

From the enthralling and haunting “Poison Arrow,” a gritty track carried by exciting instrumental effects, to the newly recorded “Daredevil,” a softer rock-type ballad that highlights the dramatic vocals of Barnes and the endearing yet heartbreaking “Fatal Flaw,” the band presents a concept and uses every outlet—songwriting, instrumentals, vocal delivery—to get the ideas across with utmost conviction.

Musicianship: Seemingly inspired by the vocal work of Karen O, lead vocalist Barnes captures the essence of a defeated lover struggling to move forward. Even in a confined space, with the volume on high, she stood out with a soaring performance and hypnotizing stage presence. Always focused and controlled, the instrumentals created the perfect backdrop as Cole showcased impressive guitar work, at one point using a shot glass to achieve thrilling effects. Martinez on keys may not have had a dominating presence during the set, but the ambient sound he contributed added a complex layer to the mix. Young on drums, powerful and enticing, never played second act while Spencer’s added bass and vocals hinted at a possible future musical direction for the young band.

Performance: During their Extended Play release party, Darkbird gave an energetic, passionate performance that highlighted the sound of the dark and edgy project. The band’s debut EP was a labor of love—they scrapped the project at one point to start the process all over again—and that kind of commitment was evident through the refinement of every incorporated element. From the intentionally offbeat ‘90s rock inspirations and narrative songwriting to the radio-ready approach on tracks with added male vocals, the set showcased true musicianship and professionalism. As the band took the stage, the crowd was packed tightly into the venue. Even with the expected technical mishaps, vocals were overpowered at times, the friendly personalities of each member and their love for creating formed a bond with the audience that never seemed to dim or go unappreciated.

Summary: Darkbird are fairly new to the Austin music scene, but you’d never suspect it. The tightness and cohesiveness of the instrumentals and vocals made the band appear to be longtime friends, not people who met on Craigslist. The band gave the audience a rousing show that focused attention on the mixed emotions and encompassing vocals of Barnes, a true star in the making. Never did it sound like components were fighting for attention, everything blended smoothly and all members added something refreshing to an inspired, throwback sound. Darkbird could suffer for sticking to a sound that’s been heard before, but the full-bodied live experience left little to the imagination. Barnes poured heart and soul into the material, and became an inspiring leader for her diligent bandmates.

The Players: Kelly Barnes, vocals; Brian Cole, guitar; Chris Young, drums; Chris Spencer, bass; Michael Martinez, keys/synth.

Photo by Ryan Vestil

Venue: Cheer Up Charlie’s Austin, TX
Contact: [email protected]