Humbird Alights in Milwaukee with its Atmospheric, Ethereal Music
Minneapolis-based Siri Undlin and Humbird gracefully landed in Milwaukee on a spring night in April toward the end of its Spring 2022 tour promoting its sophomore album, Still Life.
Humbird was pioneered by Siri Undlin and is comprised of Undlin (lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitar), Adelyn Strei (vocals, keyboards, synth, clarinet, and saxophone), Pat Keen (upright and electric bass), and Peter Quirsfeld (drums and percussion).
Undlin has been a musician and songwriter virtually all of her life and has won awards and accolades from numerous sources. While at Colorado College in 2013, Undlin was awarded the prestigious Thomas K. Watson Fellowship for a musical project that permitted her to travel to Iceland, Ireland, and Europe on tour. Recent accolades include selection as a 2021 New Folk Award Winner at the Kerryville Folk Festival and selection to the 2022 Folk Alliance International Official Artist Showcase.
After playing in a number of bands, Siri Undlin originally started Humbird as a side project for her songwriting. She found that other groups she played with could not incorporate her music quickly. What began as side project soon became her main focus as she found audiences to be receptive to her music and messages.
Siri Undlin is a very talented singer-songwriter, weaving tales of love and hopefulness even in the most difficult of times. The band’s newest release, Still Life, was born from the collaboration between Undlin and Adelyn Strei during the heart of the Covid pandemic. The album was conceived near, and highly influenced by the tragic killing of George Floyd in South Minneapolis during the summer of 2020 and the resulting urban unrest.
Undlin describes Still Life as an accidental record, one where she worked on a number of songs with Adelyn Strei and quickly realized that they were coming up with an album.
Still Life deals with survival and surprise in dealing with the intersecting and conflicting feelings of fear, hope, despair,and possibility that people were feeling at that time. Still Life was Undlin’s way of not only beginning her own healing process from that time but also offering a way to use music to help others to cope.
Humbird is the kind of band that is perfectly suited for the coffeehouse setting of Anodyne Coffee in Milwaukee. While they could easily fill larger venues with their music, a small, more intimate venue enables the band and the audience to really merge into a memorable experience.
Humbird’s sound has been described as “Ambient Folk.” Siri Undlin describes the band’s approach as “Experimental Folk.” Other apt descriptors include ethereal or natural, including the intentional sounds of nature being woven into the instrumentals in many of Humbird’s songs.
The atmospheric, gentle nature of the band’s music was evident beginning with the first song of the set, “May.”
“Plum Sky” kicked the tempo up a notch with more of a rock percussion beat.
“Summer Storm for Charlotte,” representing the band’s most recent video release, was penned as a sort of tribute to a 5-year-old neighbor. But it is also a depiction of what it was like for young children to experience that summer of turmoil and violence in South Minneapolis.
During transitions between songs, Siri Undlin and Adelyn Strei both recounted stories from their spring tour. The band encountered plenty of challenges ranging from a blown transmission in their truck and painful encounters with yucca plant needles and Strei’s unfortunate experience with poison oak.
Humbird’s set list ran the gambit from serious to playful.
The seriousness came through on “Pink Moon for John Prine.” Siri Undlin told the audience that she wrote the song not long after hearing of John Prine’s death from Covid on the night of a pink moon.
The song grips your heart as two friends grieve over the loss of a loved one.
My friend is on the other line
She called to talk, instead we cry
The pandemic hit and her father died
Says the greatest gift she got was time
It’s so hard to breathe with a tight chest
Adelyn Strei’s sweet harmonies were the perfect complement to Undlin’s vocal lead.
The band’s playful side clearly came out on “Pharmakon,” a track from Humbird’s first album of the same name. The band was all smiles as they played, looking to each other as if recounting a personal, inside joke.
Humbird closed out the set with “On the Day We Are Together Again,” the final song on Still Life. A solemn ode to life, love, remembrance, and loss. A fitting end for the show and the capstone representing all that Still Life entailed.
“On the Day” offers hope for society to work together—“I will help the strangers I meet / It is possible to get back on our feet.”
It offers thanks for the medical profession working so hard during the Covid pandemic—“To the healers who keep us alive / A toast to your courage, knowledge, and light.”
The song offers memories of those we have lost—“And the ones we love who are gone / We remember the stories and we sing the songs.”
That song can definitely bring a tear to your eye.
Ellie Jackson Opens for Humbird
Local folk singer Ellie Jackson opened for Humbird. During the introduction to her set, Jackson commented on the debt modern folk music owes to diverse cultures, including indigenous American culture.
Ellie Jackson has been described as delivering determined vulnerability in her emotions through her songwriting and instrumental work. Jackson is not afraid to call out injustices and inequities through her music.
Many of Jackson’s songs demonstrated her superb vocal range from low notes to soaring in a way similar to the grieving for a lost loved one.
Caley Conway accompanied Ellie Jackson. Conway, an accomplished folk singer-songwriter in her own right with an expanding reputation, played an omnichord. The omnichord is an electronic instrument that may be described as melding a keyboard approach with strings.
Conway joined in tight harmonies with Ellie Jackson throughout the set.
Enjoy our earlier interview of Siri Undlin, here: Humbird Interview
Humbird is wrapping up its Spring 2022 tour with only a few dates left. Humbird will be at Blue Ox Music Festival in Eau Claire, Wisconsin on Friday, June 24, 2022. This fall, they have plans for a European tour, opening at the Green Note in London on September 11, 2022.
Keep an eye on Humbird’s tour dates here as they are announced.
Blockhouse Bar, Bloomington, IN
Mid-West Music Fest 2022, Winona, MN
Humbird—Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company–Milwaukee
Summer Storm for Charlotte
Pink Moon for John Prine
Fresh Water for You
On the Day We Are Together Again