Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Show Review: Andrew Bird 13 April 2012

I saw Andrew Bird open for Kristin Hersh, years ago, on the Grotto tour and he was just this one man band, near freakshow, of flailing and wailing brilliance.  I had never heard of him.  To say he left a permanent mark in my memory with his whistling, violin playing and loop station mastery that night is an understatement.  He's always been on my radar so, when he announced a tour late last year, I bought tickets without a second thought for his show at the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland.  Fast forward a few months to when his latest album was released and my anticipation for the show went through the stratosphere, as it's arguably his best album yet.

Fucking weather.  Snow in April.  Chains required to get over I-80 to the Bay Area.
Long drive.  Need to refuel.
Anytime I get near Telegraph Avenue, there's a good chance I'll be eating Ethiopian food.  (yes, it was delicious)
Stand in line.
Wriggle our way up front.

When he took the stage around 9pm, I honestly didn't know what to expect.  When he just started looping pizzicati, whistles and bowed violin lines, I can't even convey how surreal it was.  2,500 people watching this skinny man create his pocket symphonies in real time.  Just unreal the things he was able to do his violin and his mouth.  When the band joined him onstage after a few songs, it was a no-brainer that this was going to be good, while in a between song moment, Andrew declared, "I've been looking forward to this show, though I don't know why."  

Although there's only four people on stage, it took a real step back and a realization of what he was actually doing up there all by himself to understand just how incredible a live performer he is.  The way he directs the band in subtle nods and finger points, his incredible pitch-perfect whistle/xylophone harmonies and the way he brandishes his violin as a guitar are all the marks of a musician at the very top of his game.  Indeed, in a between song banter moment, Andrew announced that the band would mostly be playing songs from the new album because they were "a whole lot of fun to play."

And I guess that's what struck me about the whole performance: through all the perfect musicianship and utterly professional approach to the whole thing, there was no lack of grins being exchanged between band members and when they all took a final bow and said their thank yous at the end of the night, it felt like they really wanted to personally approach every person in the the place thank them face to face.  

Elsewhere, the quirks of the performance were all over the place.  Somebody constructed this odd spinning gramophone thing that shot all kinds of super echoey racket when it was used and I have to admit that, besides being a great stage prop, it served a purpose that I was completely confounded by.  He played his now infamous rendition of 'It's Not Easy Being Green' which was nothing if not worthy of a good chuckle.  And, you know, a bit of the good ol' rockin' out.  A three song, entirely acoustic encore of all country and traditional folk songs pretty much tore the house down from where I was standing.  And that was that.


His band was excellent and I really have to take a step back and realize just how far he's come in the last decade since I first saw him.  To say that his approach to making music is essentially unchanged, but only refined, really illustrates just how good he is.  



No comments: