As I rounded Locust, I passed two tour bus guards staring down at their phones. I blurted out a breathless "Hey!" and waved, but, alas, no response. Yes, here in St. Louis we occasionally wave and say hi to people we don't know on the streets.
I arrived just in time to grab a drink before Birdy's opening set. God, it was warm in there: men and women alike were packed in around the Plush stage. It was a shoulder-to-shoulder kind of night. It seems everyone had their phones out, too, (one woman even brought her iPad) ready to hashtag, tweet and selfie this and that. That's one thing I learned about Perri when visiting her Facebook page. She loves to engage her fans in social media.
The lights dimmed as Birdy walked on stage. Jasmine van den Bogaerde has been on the music scene internationally since premiering her popular cover of Bon Iver's "Skinny Love" at the age of 14. The classically trained pianist and guitarist is now just a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday, and as took the stage with her two bandmates, phones everywhere extended upward and cheers ensued.
Beginning with two other popular covers she released years ago, Birdy sang "Shelter" by the xx followed by "People Help the People" by Cherry Ghost. Out of the small-framed girl came a world of soul, passion and a vocal range that sounds both limitless and effortless.
Her two bandmates rounded out her sound, alternating guitar, bass and backup keyboard, while Birdy held her own on piano, guitar and baritone ukulele.
Birdy sang originals from her upcoming album, which will be released domestically June 3. Her singles "Wings" and "Words as Weapons" showcase her songwriting, which is deep and introspective.
But what was most captivating about Birdy's live performance was the absence of predictable melody patterns amidst the beautiful accompaniment, which resembled that of Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel. Even though she's not yet passed young adulthood, she seems to have stayed true to herself stylistically and as a songwriter, rather than succumb to pressures of labels to conform to a commercialized sound.
Birdy's 30-minute set was over before I knew it, and the stage was quickly turned over for Perri. Stage left was a beautiful, white, upright piano. Lights were hung at the back of the stage amidst fog machines, and a mic stand with a bouquet of red and white roses was placed center stage, topped with a white microphone awaiting Perri's first notes.
She walked on stage and immediately the light show began, outlining the singer's silhouette as she sang a few lines of "Trust" a cappella before her band joined her on the lyric, "I knew better than." It was a powerful opening. Like Birdy, Perri has a soulful tone and a powerhouse range. She followed that with "Shot Me in the Heart," during which she danced playfully around the stage, never missing a note, and the lights followed her in perfect time with each song.
Perri was as engaging to watch as she was endearing. She didn't take herself too seriously, and showcased her personality openly onstage. At one point, she was harmonizing with her lead guitarist and holding out a note, and pointed at him to challenge him to hold the note longer. When he stopped singing first, she had a playful "I win, cha-ching" moment.
She continued with fan-favorite ballads and pop/rock songs from her first album and her most recent release. She strapped on her acoustic guitar for "Run" and sat at the pearly white piano for "Sea of Lovers," conversing with the audience about her song origins and meanings.
This is another area where Perri excels: making her fans feel like friends and letting them know she's been through the same ups and downs of life that they have, or similar ones at least. She's an open book -- and one her fans value.
Halfway through the show her band left the stage, except for her keyboardist, Emily Grace.
"It was Emily's birthday yesterday," Perri said. "So on the count of three let's all say it!"
And so we did.
Grace played while Perri sang "Butterfly," which Perri later explained is "about a shithead." The song was a stunner: a gorgeous piano melody to match a riveting vocal from Perri. It was one of the best moments of the night.
Her band re-entered for the remainder of the set, performing fan-favorites like "Arms" and "Humans." The audience was singing as loud, if not louder, than Perri, and she often extended the microphone out to them to sing phrases.
Then came time for audience selfies.
"Whoever you're here with tonight," Perri said, "take a selfie and put the hashtag 'Head or Heart' tour, and while I'm sitting in my bunk, I'm going to look at all of them and pick my favorites."
Perri concluded the set with her self-described "happy song" called "Be My Forever."
After that, something that I've never in my life seen happen at a show happened.
At the end of "I Believe," the lyrics repeat. As the band finished and began to leave stage, Perri included, the crowd continued singing the repeated line, which is a two-part melody. The crowd on the right side of the room sang "This is not the end of me, this is the beginning," and the left, singing "Hold on, I am still alive."
It continued until the band re-entered for the encore, where Perri and the audience sang together for the remainder of the set. I am certain that "Jar of Hearts" could be heard three blocks away, maybe even past where I had parked on Olive Street.