Concert Review: Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds @ 9:30 Club (11/29/18)

Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds 3
Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds (Photo Credit: Nicole DiBenedetto)

Keep funk alive!

Not every show at the 9:30 Club is a sell out, but they almost certainly should be. Case in point, the November 29th concert by Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds. Small crowd, but great show.

If you hadn’t had the pleasure of your very own Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds experience, the simple fact they were headlining at the 9:30 Club would have been a solid clue that they are good.

Before the band took their places, nine setlists were placed strategically around the stage, each shining brightly amidst the dark hue of the blue lights. They are led by Arleigh Kincheloe (aka Sister Sparrow as singer extraordinaire) and completed by the 8-piece brass and rock band (aka The Dirty Birds).

One thing you can’t escape is Arleigh’s booming voice, no matter how many instruments they play in her wake. And The Dirty Birds play a lot (saxophone, harmonica, guitars, drums, bass, keyboard, trombone, trumpet, you get the idea).

They opened their set with “Borderline”, about crossing a line to love, and for us in the audience, about whether we should cross a line to love what Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds were about to bring. And they brought song after song of brilliant, soulful, funk revival rock.

They just released their fourth album, Gold, and they performed five of the new songs (out of the 17 or so in their set – there were a few other song snippets thrown in).

Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds are from Brooklyn and started playing together in 2008, going through multiple configurations over the years, but morphed to the current eight Dirty Birds + Arleigh. One such member, let’s call him Holy Mountain* guy (see the hat/beard) or simply Jackson Kincheloe (Arleigh’s brother), tilted his guitar like a keyboard and picked away at it, sometimes setting it aside for blazing bursts of harmonica. He stood near center stage, as the dynamic anchor for the 3-piece brass line to his right, and to his left, Arleigh’s constant dancing and strutting from the front to the back of the stage. The spotlight operator had the toughest job of the night (presumably).

Next they played “Frankie”, a funktastic song that slithers and grooves, and brought to our swift attention that we were also meant to dance, dance the night away. Many colors, especially purple, swirled around the 9:30 Club, the lights keeping time with the brass notes and the guitar riffs.

They played four of the songs from Gold consecutively, but actually focused more of their attention overall from 2015’s The Weather Below album, giving us six of those songs, including “Prison Cells”, with its danceable beats ebbing and flowing.

They moved into a cover of Toto’s “Rosanna”, where a few of the gentlemen took turns singing, and a little later played Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, with a break from the brass, and according to Arleigh, ‘with Aretha Franklin’s arrangement’.

“We Need a Love” is a standard song, but it served the keen purpose of giving full attention to Arleigh’s rich, soulful voice.

The last two songs of the main set were “Mama Knows” and the title track from Gold, both down-tempo looks at more love. Now having run the gauntlet of their soulful show, the audience knew, to a person, we had already crossed the line to their side.

We expected an encore, but it wasn’t necessary to further that belief. They did return with “Sugar”, providing the brass section a last moment to shine, and closed with a Beyoncé cover. We left happy but still surprised more people weren’t there to cross the line with us.

Pick up a copy of Gold and give Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds’ the love they need!

Can’t Get You Off of My Mind
Untie My Shoelaces
Don’t Be Jealous
Prison Cells
Rosanna (Toto cover)
Millie Mae
Music interlude to Feel Like Funkin’ It Up (Rebirth Brass Band cover)
We Need A Love
Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel cover) (with Aretha Franklin’s arrangement)
Leave Here With Me
Mama Knows

Crazy In Love (Beyoncé cover)


* The Holy Mountain is a crazy movie, but has very stylish hats.

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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