English singer-songwriter Birdy made her Portland debut in a big way this weekend, making two separate (and somewhat different) appearances in the City of Roses on Sunday afternoon. Although Birdy has been making music since she was a preteen (her cover of Bon Iver's "Skinny Love" - at the the tender age of 14 - made a bit of a splash on YouTube back in 2011), the 17 year-old musician's stock has really been on the rise in the past few months, no doubt spurred on in part by the popularity of her contemporary, Lorde.
For her first performance on Sunday, a sizable number of Portlanders skipped the NFL playoffs to see Birdy play a stripped down 94/7 Session at Mississippi Studios. Sitting alone at her piano, Birdy held the audience in rapt attention for the entirety of her set, which included several songs of her new album, "Fire Within" and the her hit cover of "Skinny Love." Although she looks unassuming before coming onstage, once Birdy took to the keys, she had her audience in the palm of her hand - the crowd was so enthralled that they were completely silent during her set, the spell only breaking after she finished each song.
Up close and personal with Birdy at Mississippi Studios.
The mood was somewhat different for her sold-out I Saw Them When show at the Crystal Ballroom a few hours later. Backed by a four-piece band and playing to a massive crowd, Birdy ratcheted up the energy level, as the crowd clapped and cheered (along with a couple of enthusiastic fans who frequently yelled "I LOVE YOU BIRDY!") to original songs like "Shelter" and "Standing in the Way of the Light" and her cover of The Naked & Famous's "Young Blood." Birdy also proved herself to be a double-threat, switching from piano to guitar midway through her set, before finishing off her concert on a high-note (quite literally) with "Skinny Love" and, perhaps a bit incongruously, a cover of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" (yeah, I wasn't expecting that either, but it worked), followed by an old-fashioned curtain-call with her band at the end of the show.
After seeing Birdy twice this weekend, I'm reminded of Shakespeare's famous line: "Though she be but little, she is fierce." Few modern indie singers can sing with the raw power and depth of emotion that Birdy seems to summon effortlessly when she sits down at the keys - and it's a beautiful thing to see.