Breathe Owl Breathe Brings Silly Sincerity to the Cat

Lizzie Conner, Staff Writer

The night started off rough, with feedback issues followed by a dead DI box followed by a broken monitor. These minor technical issues aside, Michigan folk act Breathe Owl Breathe nonetheless managed to pull off a wonderfully entertaining show at the Cat in the Cream last Wednesday, April 13.

As soon as the band took the stage, frontman Micah Middaugh adopted his trademark bizarre stage persona, introducing his first song with the quip: “This one goes out to all the dog-walking enthusiasts.” His quirky banter reflected the band’s similarly idiosyncratic musical stylings: The stage was set with instruments that one wouldn’t typically expect from a folk band, including drum pad-triggered samples and a toy synthesizer.

From there, Breathe Owl Breathe continued to put its goofy and eccentric sense of humor on display. Before the second song, “Dragon,” Middaugh crouched behind a pile of amps; he then reappeared with his impressive beard concealed by a grey ski mask, assuming the guise of an indie knight in shining armor. Following this brief game of Hide and Seek, Middaugh then proceeded to tell a detailed story about a dragon and princess who fall in love through long-distance letter-writing.

Despite and because of the band’s adorable theatrics, the sentiments of Breathe Owl Breathe’s songs came through loud and clear. Alternating between two different microphones — one dry and another running through an ancient boom box — Middaugh sang never-ending, heartfelt tales of pen-pals, golden kindness and nighttime swims. At times, Middaugh’s voice quivered like that of his Michigan neighbor, Matthew Milia of Frontier Ruckus; at other moments, his pronunciation in a deeper range was more reminiscent of Noah and the Whale frontman Charlie Fink’s growling bass.

All the while, cellist Andrea Moreno’s delicate and playful soprano complemented Middaugh’s dynamic vocals, her lilting tone evoking the spirit of Jolie Holland (that is, if Holland sung exclusively in her head-voice). Moreno was also a skilled multi-instrumentalist, dancing across the cello’s fingerboard one minute and rolling catchy lines on the banjo the next, at one point even banging excitedly on a makeshift drum kit. Drummer Trevor Hobbs kept this gleefully chaotic sonic environment from devolving into pandemonium, steering the band away from heightened kitsch with his quietly driven percussion and ear-catching synth.

Although the music itself was impressive, it was ultimately Breathe Owl Breathe’s playful energy that made the evening memorable. The band’s childlike antics ensured that there was never a serious moment throughout the set, consistently engaging the audience despite the Cat’s somewhat dark and stodgy atmosphere. Towards the end of the show, for instance, Middaugh played an animated round of the call-and-response rhythm game Big Booty with his bandmates; he then proceeded to encourage the audience to do several variations of The Wave.

Indeed, after witnessing the high-octane, childish energy of Breathe Owl Breathe’s live set, I bought the band’s most recent album, Magic Central. Released a little less than a year ago, the album — which is baby-powder pink on vinyl — brings out the same qualities of sincerely silly joy that were present in the band’s live set, and I would highly recommend it to those who love songs about fighting dragons, saving princesses and dog-walking enthusiasts.