Above – Birds of Tokyo with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra (2020)

Birds of Tokyo, one of Australia’s most popular alternative rock bands from Perth, took their name after reading an article about how there were no birds in the central business district of Tokyo because of noise and pollution. Suitably, their latest tour with Australia’s State orchestras, is called Birdsongs. The band have already performed with WASO and next travel to Melbourne and Sydney.  

Birdsongs combines two musical worlds. Classical music and rock can be uneasy bedfellows and it took a while for the band to whip up the kind of intimacy and connection with the audience they crave. Initially the orchestra sounded great, if reserved, but fired and stoked the feels as the evening progressed and both parties fused. Ian Kenny, the singer, clearly relished the orchestral backing saying it was great to, ‘bust up your songs with greatness.’

Last Friday and Saturday night’s concerts on QPAC’s stage were a gift for all concerned. Fans were treated to the band’s greatest hits primped, primed and pumped with a rich sonic palette conducted by the commendable Nicholas Buc who was easeful and suave in a rock milieu. His authentic arrangements added depth and heart to the playlist although the strings are typically static and confined to simplistic bowing.

Those who love orchestral concerts but wanted time out from Mahler’s spiritual peaks and Beethoven’s growl and swagger were rewarded by hearing the QSO’s strings and brass sections deliver notable quality in an alternative genre.

As always with these mixed style concerts, and with such instrumental talent on tap, it would be great to hear a few orchestral fills. Yet, Buc did ensure there were shifts in combinations of sound and rewarding interludes when the band soloed or the singer sang with just conservatorium trained pianist and songwriter Glenn Sarangapany or guitarist Adam Spark.

The band did all they could to warm the crowd. Sarangapany stood on the piano stool to direct clapping, Kenny insisted the audience sing along. His rewarding voice is versatile and powerful and carries well over the orchestra. He gives each number his all and the playlist revealed his prowess in falsetto in the rousing ‘My Son.’

In ‘I’d Go With You Anywhere’, Kenny’s belt was underscored by a convincing jagged strings undertow and the orchestra speared visceral bite in Kenny’s soulful ‘Good Lord’ said to be about the devastating split with his wife. Surging strings suited the sentiment. A trumpeter had the final say.

All forces worked hard to entertain. As sound levels surfed the crest of a giant wave, the lighting colours changed with each new level of intensity and when a plateau of fat soupy sound was reached, the stage was washed in vivid white. At other junctures, the stage glowed red or purple or blue in ‘Lanterns’ which was a blast and concluded this fun, enjoyable concert. A satisfied crowd waved dancing phones.

Gillian Wills is an author and arts writer who has published with Australian Stage Online, Limelight, Griffith Review, Australian Book Review, The Australian, Good Reading, The Strad (UK) Cut Common, Loudmouth and Artist Profile. Her short stories have been published with Dillydoun Review, Antonym, Dewdrop, Unbelievable Stories and Hare’s Paw Literary Journal. Her memoir, Elvis and Me: how a world-weary musician and a broken racehorse rescued each other, Finch Pty was released in 2016 in Australia, America, Canada, The UK and NZ.

Event details

Birds of Tokyo with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra present

Venue: Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane QLD
Dates: 8 – 9 September 2023
Bookings: qso.com.au

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