LIVE REVIEW: Falls @ Bowery Ballroom

The Falls

Performances by Australian group Falls revolve around the vocal magic trick that happens when Simon Rudston-Brown and Melinda Kirwin harmonize. Lightly highlighted with a string section, Rudston-Brown’s guitar and the occasional melodica solo from Kirwin, Falls create a lush and mysteriously reassuring soundtrack to the development–and breakdown–of their relationship. The two were once a couple, and, when they began playing music, found that writing songs together was a natural extension of their extra-musical connection. Just before recording their debut EP Hollywood, though, the pair fought, made up, and then broke up for good, continuing to play and write together all the while.

Most of the audience gathered to hear Falls open for Delta Rae at the Bowery Ballroom last week seemed to know the story–judging by how they were able to sing along to the words as the pair performed, Falls has already accumulated a fair following since releasing their EP as Hollywood in Australia last year, and as Into The Fire in the U.S. this month–but even if no one had known Kirwin and Rudston-Brown’s backstory, their on-stage rapport would have been obvious. The duo were visually almost opposites–Kirwin stood front and center a little shakily, thin and bird-like in a white dress that hung down her forearms as she gripped the microphone stand. She handled most of the between-song banter–peering smilingly at the crowd from behind a thick set of dark bangs–while Rudston-Brown stood beside her with his guitar. He was a sharp, kind of rugged dresser with a shiny black belt buckle and a brown vest, like a particularly dapper cowboy.

The string section seated behind the duo neatly held down their parts so precisely they seemed polite.  The orchestration sounded classical and complexly put together, supplying an emotional surge for each chorus that was well-timed and pretty, if occasionally a little saccharine. The already-sentimental lyrics were better bolstered by the sparse instrumentation of Rudston-Brown’s guitar, and on the songs performed without the strings–most of them in the first half of the group’s set–the pared-down, acoustic feel of the performance actually heightened the emotion, which was palpable from the duo’s vocal harmony alone.

“Girl That I Love” was a special highlight of the performance, coming about halfway through the set. Rudston-Brown and Kirwin have said it’s still a tough one to perform. “There’s the girl that I love,” Rudston-Brown sing-songed through the opening bars, “There’s the girl that makes me mad as hell.” It was a large-scale, complicated performance that expanded and ebbed in mood, alternating between mournful verses and the tidal, instrument-heavy refrain.

But even through their darker material, Kirwin and Rudston-Brown were all smiles on stage. Their career, while already established in Australia, is still shaping in the U.S., and they were visibly thrilled to be touring. They whipped through their mature, expansive set list with the skill of a much more established band, holding attention with their music’s quietly powerful presence.

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