by Jordan Green

An air of expectancy hangs about the parlor room at the Green Burro on a recent Thursday night as members of the Greensboro band Filthybird check their levels. An Olympic-brand paint can props open one of the windows, cooling the room and filtering in the soft din of restaurant conversation from Elm Street three stories below.

Renee Mendoza, the band’s singer and keyboardist, sits behind her Nard Electro 2, running through an elaborate vocal sound check. That there are three photographers, two videographers and a couple guys fussing about the sound system on this, the one-year anniversary show of the multi-media DotMatrix series, only ratchets up the excitement level. Mendoza smiles. The air buzzes. The music is pregnant, stray beauty in a solitary bass run, a light tap on the tom, a phrase of reverb-drenched guitar. It’s a triumphant moment for Filthybird. Not only is it the one-year anniversary of the DotMatrix, but it’s been a year since Filthybird has played in Greensboro. A hometown crowd is waiting eagerly, and the band is poised for greater artistic heights. Since leaving Ashrae Fax in 2004, Mendoza joined forces with guitarist Brian Haran, a sound engineer from New York, and the two began recording in the attic of a house they shared on Aycock Street. The duo eventually filled out to become a full-fledged band by enlisting bass player Mike Duehring, a regular presence at the somewhat seedy College Hill Sundries bar, and drummer Shawn Smith, an alum of Citified and Palaver. Reports of early live shows by Filthybird found the band’s chemistry to be somewhat uneven, but they eventually evolved into a dynamic unit, and released the gorgeous full-length Southern Skies in 2007. Since then, they’ve recorded a new set of songs for a follow-up album to be titled Songs For Other People that Mendoza says the band will be shopping for a label or possibly releasing on its own. Also, Mendoza and Haran got married last year. The first half of the set is comprised of songs from the forthcoming album, beginning with one called “Gravity.” “We got married about six months ago, so we kind of took a break,” Mendoza tells the audience. The other three glance at each other.

“All of us,” Haran quips, “got married.” Mendoza ignores the teasing. “We’re really happy to be playing,” she says. Then they play a song called “Portrait” that sounds like domestic contentment to me. Mendoza’s voice soars and cuts to the quick. It’s a mournful, affirming and also joyous instrument, floating above the Brill Building rhythm section and Mendoza’s expressive piano playing. Haran, standing to Duehring’s side, bends the strings of his guitar in a textural wash of vibrato, then sits out — a subtle player, whose touch is nonetheless all over this music. The response from the crowd is rapturous. Filthybird’s performance is a revelation, replete with abrupt changes, soulful touches and earnest delivery. The music surges and twists in unexpected patterns, describing a place somewhere between catharsis and paralysis that is ache and frailty of life. Some couples are dancing, including one pair of newlyweds. Kemp Stroble, a scene fixture, who will be picking up his life and moving to Athens, Ga. within 36 hours, is gleefully snapping pictures of the band with a digital camera. Alcohol is flowing liberally, and the crowd responds with appropriate obstreperousness. Haran announces that Mendoza will play the next-to-last song, “Feather Down,” solo. It’s an introspective number, and Mendoza waits for quiet. “Woohoo,” she cries to get their attention. “A good friend of ours passed away about a month ago, and I wrote this song.” Some members of the crowd continue with their revelry. Haran leans down, and picks up the set list. He tears a corner off and slowly wads it up. Then, after a decent interval, he lobs it into the huddled mass of inebriates carrying on in front of his wife.

Filthybird(above), comprised of (l-r) Brian Haran, Mike Duehring, Shawn Smith andRenee Mendoza, performed at a recent DotMatrix event at the GreenBurro. Haran (right) is a subtle guitarist but a seminal presence inthe band. (photos by Quentin L. Richardson)