Live: Katy Kirby’s Bittersweet Blue Raspberry Show at Bowery Ballroom, NYC

Katy Kirby © Tonje Thilesen
Katy Kirby © Tonje Thilesen
Singer/songwriter Katy Kirby’s ‘Blue Raspberry’ show at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom was intimate, like we were let into a private rehearsal, but more than that, like friends messing around in their garage, creating something beautiful.
Stream: “Redemption Arc” – Katy Kirby

When I first asked to review this concert, I was thrilled to get a plus one. I was going to ask my girlfriend, but then we broke up.

It was amicable, so I thought about bringing her anyway, but I decided to bring my friend Kate instead. It felt poetic, the album Blue Raspberry inspired by the rise and fall of Kirby’s first queer relationship, and I was grateful to have my best friend there with me.

Blue Raspberry - Katy Kirby
Blue Raspberry – Katy Kirby

My dominating thought, right after this is so cool, was that the balcony at Bowery Ballroom felt like I was at The Bronze in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We had VIP passes and I brought a camera. I sent a picture to my mom while Kate got us beers.

The first opener, hut, are in the process of recording their first album. I liked their sound, very man-who-needs-a-hug, and the drummer’s expressiveness was wildly entertaining. The second opener, Allegra Krieger, was a Courtney Barnett-type. I loved it.

Between sets, I saw a group of friends playing Concentration 64, the clapping game I used to play at recess. They were college-aged folks who seemed like big fans. They got there, like me, before the first opener even started. They made me hopeful, and I was right to be. It was a good crowd, responsive and swaying freely. I always think that the crowd is an indicator of the band. It must be strange and wonderful to see who resonates with your words and sounds, but Katy Kirby’s crowd indicated joy, yearning, and friendship above all else.

Katy Kirby © Hannah Burns
Katy Kirby © Hannah Burns

When Kirby materialized, she was wearing mismatched prints and already laughing with her bandmates.

It was intimate, like we were let into a private rehearsal, but more than that, like friends messing around in their garage, creating something beautiful. They started with “Redemption Arc,” a big cheer from the crowd meeting the guitar riff.

I had known that there were religious threads throughout Kirby’s work, but I didn’t know how deep it ran: “What’s your favorite Hillsong song?” Kirby asked the crowd, laughing.

She launched into the song “Table,” knowingly. I had had the song on repeat for weeks. As a South Carolinian ex-catholic, I could appreciate a Texan ex-evangelical nod to Psalms 23:5, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

He prepares a table for me and
One of these days,
I’ll have to sit down and eat

I interpreted this to mean an obligation to this idea of family, settling down, or the pull of religion, or even the attraction of a heteronormative lifestyle. It would be nice to think I’m not alone in that.

Katy Kirby was effusive, saying, “We didn’t have a release party, so this kind of feels like a release party for the album. We flew in Alberto [Sewald] who helped produce the album. I lived in his spare room when I wrote this song, when I was poor and angry. I’m slightly less of those things now.” Then she sang “Wait Listen.”

You’re still hanging on to that
Perverse sense of obligation
Wait, wait, wait
Wait, listen
You can’t say I didn’t warn you

It was like everyone in the room was holding their breath. Or maybe that was just me.

Kirby was quite frank with us: “We are freaked the f**k out that this sold out. Feels pretty good to me. We are grateful you came here. There’s a lot to do around here.” But the band didn’t seem freaked out when they played, they felt natural, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

The band went “podcast-mode,” talking and joking around. “Logan is nervous,” Kirby teased, asking their friends in the room to sing along.

“There are so many words in this song,” Logan said.

 “Logan made the lyric video so he has no excuse,” Kirby joked to the crowd.

All of their friends (and the rest of us too) sang along to “Party of the Century.”

You think it’s ethically suspicious
To bring someone into a world like this
But you’ve got the best smile
Anyone could ask to inherit
And baby, I know you’re so good with kids

It was bittersweet. I had sent that song to my girlfriend when it came out. I’m still amazed by how in such little space, Kirby’s lyrics capture how it felt, and how I hope it will feel again, to be a woman loving a woman, wanting children, wanting everything with her.

“I’m pretty freakin’ eternally grateful,” Kirby said, “I’m pretty glad I’m not dead. I had a glass of wine. I borrowed this dress.” She was getting sappy, in the best way, and I knew the show was coming to an end. They played “Cool Dry Place,” the song that brought me to Katy Kirby years ago. Her voice was so excellent and raw.

The band left the stage, but Kirby stayed at the piano. She played “Portals” all alone.

If we peel apart
Will we be stronger than we were before?
We had formed ourselves together
In a temporary whole
If we reunite, will we still know
The things we had learned before?
We’re not boxes, doors, or borders
We were portals

There were some lesbians across the room, holding each other, slow dancing under the disco ball, and they didn’t let go, even when the song was over. Transported, I felt the need to text my ex-girlfriend, tell her that we were portals too. I didn’t.

Moments after some pretty shattering lyrics, “Got Me Started” by Troye Sivan played on the speakers as Kirby danced off the stage. She chose that song on purpose. I had to laugh.

Kate and I went back home to Brooklyn, where I live just a block away from my ex, and fell asleep watching Girls.

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:: stream/purchase Blue Raspberry here ::
:: connect with Katy Kirby here ::

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