Breathe Owl Breathe
Just plain zany
by Chris Berggren
A Breathe Owl Breathe concert is musical performance art at its most fun. The members of the band, however, might actually enjoy themselves more than the audience. Comprised of guitar-playing singer-songwriter Micah Middaugh, cellist and vocalist Andrea Moreno-Beals, and percussionist Trevor Hobbs, Breathe Owl Breathe creates a sparse, even subdued, avant-garde sound that comes accompanied with plenty of props and crowd participation. For their song "Sabertooth Tiger," they've invented a special saber-toothed tiger dance that involves making ears and teeth with your hands. During "Black Bear," the band members hold paper bear masks in front of their faces (a black bear, a polar bear, and a grizzly bear), from which they all read the pertinent facts about their bear at the same time. Middaugh, in what surely must be a first, even had the audience at the Ark--where they return on April 14--doing the wave--yes, the popular stadium cheer. This might sound somewhat gimmicky, but the fact that all three members are adept at playing their instruments and are clearly having a blast allows Breathe Owl Breathe a free pass on such gimmickry.
Middaugh comments between songs in a laid-back, hypnotic drawl that is Garrison Keillor-esque in both tone and humor. His singing voice is not much different from this deep, sleepy speaking voice.
His songwriting is just plain zany. He has a song based on a picture on his shower curtain of two parrots, which he explains are either kissing or biting each other. In the song, he opts for biting. "Dragon," perhaps his most intriguing song, is about a dragon and a princess who are unlikely pen pals. The dragon is just looking for friendship and a chance to improve his penmanship, but when the townspeople in the princess's village find out he's a dragon, they take up pitchforks and various gardening tools and clamber up to his lair. Audience participation plays a vital role in this song via a series of staggered claps representing the
mob mentality of the townies.
Moreno-Beals offers accompanying vocals, and the contrast between her high-pitched voice and Middaugh's couldn't be much greater. Their vocals interlock in interesting ways, too. Sometimes they concurrently sing completely different things, and other times they trade off lyrics. Moreno-Beals also frequently uses her voice as an instrument instead of singing words. Her cello is the pivotal instrument of the band, but she also plays banjo on a few songs. Hobbs adds drums, marimba, piano, and chimes in with a bit of vocal assistance as well. Minimalist and earthy in sound, but complicated in structure, Breathe Owl Breathe's music allows their artistic quirkiness to shine through.
[Originally published in April, 2011.]