Laura Burhenn was happy to be home. The District native brought her latest musical project, the Mynabirds, to the Black Cat on Saturday night for a show that was marked not by the somber tone of the quintet’s new music but by its frontwoman’s obvious joy at returning to a favorite venue.
Burhenn was half of much-loved D.C. duo Georgie James but has spent the four years since the group split concentrating on the Mynabirds. “Generals,” the Mynabirds’ second album, turns away from the American folk-and-soul of the group’s debut to embrace an almost martial rhythmic framework. Saturday’s hour-long set struck an agreeable balance between the two (and was sweetened by a version of the Beatles’ “Birthday,” performed for Burhenn’s in-attendance mom).
Regardless of whether the song was new (“Wolf Mother,” “Body of Work,” “Karma Debt”) or older (“What We Gained in the Fire,” “Let the Record Go,” “Numbers Don’t Lie”), it was the intertwining voices of Burhenn and multi-instrumentalist Rebecca Marie Miller that shone. Burhenn’s voice conveys a rough and sweet sensuality (just listen to Georgie James’s “Long Week”), and Miller’s does, too, with darker shading. The pair attacked the Mynabirds’ endless succession of “oohs” and “whoos” (seriously, they’re a staple) with a verve that buoyed even the weaker songs.
And during “Radiator Sister,” the band’s best new song, those voices melded and careened against the lock-step percussion to elevate the Mynabirds to a whole other level: a hypnotizing mix of siren-like voice and melody riding a well-rehearsed folk-rock march. Not a bad place to be, no matter what city you’re performing in.
Foster is a freelance writer.