At the end of an otherwise somber day, 200 lucky people filled the Grammy Museum’s Clive Davis Theater to capacity and were treated to an animated conversation with The Bird and the Bee’s Inara George and Greg Kurstin, followed by an intimate 9-song set divided between their catchy, idiosyncratic originals and electro jazz-infused takes on pop classics that has spiced up their catalogue, as well as what they might cover next.
“The Drop” is the museum’s impressively reduced interview/concert series, hosted by artistic director Scott Goldman. With only a small sound system (which Kurstin’s crunchy loops at first seemed to be pushing to its limits), microphones are barely necessary. Throughout the forty-five minute interview, and the short set that followed, audience members seemed welcome to shout out snappy commentary and direct responses that might be expected from a visiting lecturer to a rowdy but amicable student body.
The 40-minute conversation covered the duo’s origin: A studio break during the recording of George’s first album, produced by Kurstin, found the two alone at a piano, at which they took turns playing every single standard they knew. But mostly they talked about their shared and obvious obsession with pop music and the recordings this obsession has produced, primarily revolving around this year’s Interpreting the Masters Volume 2: A Tribute to Van Halen.
The album, consisting solely of David Lee Roth-era covers, is an interesting choice for a female vocalist to take on for obvious reasons. Van Halen, Goldman pointed out, has a very male perspective, but George replied that lyrics to songs like “Jamie’s Crying” are actually touching. A female singing them may change the meaning, but, having pored over all of DLR’s lyrics, George claimed she has found nothing sexist about any of them. “When you boil down the lyrics, I think David Lee Roth loves women, and I went with that feeling.”
The following Q&A was casual and quick, the first question cutting to the chase: What’s going to be on Volume 3? Having done Hall & Oates, and now Van Halen, they mentioned ideas they’ve tossed around, like ELO (Goldman loved this idea), but George seemed to tip the hat when she mentioned they were seriously considering doing an album of all yacht rock, which was met with uniform applause.
After a brief break and changeover, the two came back out to their instruments, beginning with 2009’s “Polite Dance Song.” The lows coming from Kurstin’s sampler seemed to be more than the sound system could handle at first, by the time they went into the breathy, orgasmic take on “Panama,” the mix had been resolved.
Much of the music was pre-recorded on Kurstin’s laptop, but the more stripped-down, piano-and-vocal tunes better complimented the room’s intimacy and gave George’s evocative soprano more room to reach. The compassion, joy, and heartwrenching sadness of George’s stratospheric falsetto on “Diamond Dave” (revealed in the interview as the origin of the decision to do a Van Halen cover album) cast a smoky, sultry shadow on the glistening synth-pop elsewhere in the set. Kurstin pulsing the bass keys on “Running with the Devil” sounded like the devil was running alongside a train bringing wares into town.
Met with a uniformly disappointed AWWW when announcing it would be their final song, George yielded to her fans and the two closed the set as she said they traditionally do, with a spine-tingling, minimalist rendition of the Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love?” Meeting the eyes of every enraptured member of the audience as George traversed the stage, ultimately earning a standing ovation, it’s hard to see why they should ever break that tradition.
- Polite Dance Song
- Panama (Van Halen cover)
- Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love (Van Halen cover)
- Again & Again
- Runnin’ with the Devil (Van Halen cover)
- Diamond Dave
- Please Take Me Home
- You’re a Cad
- How Deep Is Your Love (Bee Gees cover)
Photo Credit: Owen Ela