Laura Burhenn performs in Dallas in 2010.
Laura Burhenn, former DC native transplanted to Omaha, Neb., has done her share of traveling in recent days. The hypnotic chanteuse had been touring with her frequent collaborators Black English, opening for the Psychedelic Furs, when she got the call to open for The Pixies at the 9:30 Club Sunday night.
She flew back to DC Sunday morning, and several members of Black English supported her as her band in The Mynabirds, which also played an intimate show at the POV Lounge at the W Hotel in DC on Monday night.
At the W, The Mynabirds performed a lush 11-song set, half of which roughly consisted of new songs from an upcoming third album, Lovers Know, due on August 7 on well-regarded indie label Saddle Creek.
Monday was my first time catching a performance by Laura and The Mynabirds, and one thing immediately was clear: Laura sings with purpose. Generally her songs are concerned with devoting yourself to something 100 percent –- and when you have to do so, you fight.
Fans of the band already will be familiar with the concept from “Generals,” the title track of the second album by The Mynabirds, performed by Laura and company in the first half of their set. The song is a literal call to arms to “generals” or “sisters and brothers” to protest war and misguided priorities.
Those already familiar with “Generals” will be glad to know the same sort of rootsy vibe informs the new songs by The Mynabirds. But Laura adds a shimmery folk pop sheen when she draws inspiration from a bit of American country or a bit of zydeco, strengthening the occasional comparison to Kate Bush, who did a similar sort of thing with Irish roots music.
Laura’s voice infuses a dreamy lilt into her inspirations, as with opening numbers “Velveteen” and “Believer,” drawn from the new album. It works well in cases of minimal marches, as with the first song, and very well with quiet roars, as with the latter.
A few songs later, The Mynabirds offer something a little different with “Semantics,” the first single from the new album, which includes backing vocals from Black English lead singer Bradley Hanan Carter. Bradley’s baritone adds some emotional and textural depth to the song’s refrain and sounds unique in harmony with Laura. “Semantics” is a fairly straightforward lovesong with a bit of clever wordplay, and it features some nice synth work from Laura, who knows her keyboards, apparently having grown up playing piano.
Afterward, The Mynabirds debut new song “Wildfire,” which is an instant audience favorite. It encapsulates everything that Laura strives to put into her music, as she said at the show: “[This] is about putting your whole self into everything you do, and if you don’t succeed, you die trying.” The audience took to the song with an instant and agreeable familiarity and clapped along in time.
Later in the set, The Mynabirds play new track “All of My Heart,” another lush, sparse dreamy song. Watch Laura perform “All My Heart” by a creek at night during SXSW for NPR in March 2015:
As she wound down the show, Laura took advantage of the presence of bandmates from Black English (formerly a band called “NO”) to perform a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” which she recorded with them a few years ago. She called it her favorite lovesong, and you could sort of understand why with its allegories, scenic references and folk pop melodies.
The Mynabirds vowed to return to DC in the fall while touring in support of the new album, and I suspect Laura’s hometown will give her a warm reception indeed.