If there’s a mad genius of indie songwriters, it just might be Andrew Bird.
During live performances he stands alone onstage, surrounded by a phalanx of musical equipment and quirky props: a sock monkey doll in a striped suit and custom-made whirling speakers that look like giant vintage gramophones.
Bird himself can appear a bit preoccupied, like an indie-rock absent-minded professor in gray blazer, cardigan and sneakers – with shoelaces so long he seemed in danger of tripping over them as he dashed around the stage, stepping from one effects pedal to the next.
There’s an element of musical ADD to it all, as on most songs he doesn’t stay with any one instrument for long, playing mere seconds of violin before turning to the guitar slung over his back or adding a whistle solo – musical phrases he then loops into increasingly layered soundscapes.
Overall, the rapidity can seem a bit mind-boggling, as do the sheer scope of Bird’s musical talent and the virtuosity of his masterful, classically trained violin playing.
Bird’s studio albums, although enjoyable, don’t have quite the same impact. You have to see him live, as did a nearly full house at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall last Thursday, a crowd interspersed with both college students and an older, NPR-friendly demographic.
It takes a singular obsession to make music the way he does, and Bird didn’t quite allay the solitary-musical-genius impression by jerking his head along to the neuro-spastic “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” or by talking aloud to an invisible protagonist during “Why?” – an autobiographical song that imagines arguments between Bird and all the people in his life who grow frustrated with his disengaged nature.
But, of course, there are many other sides to the guy. He closed his set by playing violin to three straight up bluegrass-inflected songs, one his (the hopeful “Happy Day”) and two covers: the Handsome Family’s vividly rendered addiction tale “So Much Wine” and Charley Patton’s rousing “I’m Goin’ Home.”
In between, he filled his set with lots of new, yet-to-be-released songs, including the pastoral “Hole in the Ocean Floor,” the break-up ballad “Lazy Projector” (written for the soundtrack to the upcoming Muppets movie, but rejected), the operatic “Danse Carribe,” and the starkly beautiful “Desperation Breeds,” from a forthcoming album due out next spring.
He also covered Kermit the Frog’s self-affirming theme, “Bein’ Green” (another take from the Muppet movie soundtrack) to tragicomic effect, before being joined for several songs by opener Dosh, a Minneapolis-based (but SUNY New Paltz-educated) multi-instrumentalist.
Like Bird, the more percussion-focused Dosh worked alone during his opening set, setting off musical chain reactions by looping and layering synth bits and live drum beats. When he joined Bird onstage, the pair merged Bird’s violin loops with Dosh’s drumbeats, intensifying their eddying sonic churn.
The collaboration came to a head during “Plasticities” – possibly the highlight of the show – as Bird and Dosh escalated an already great song into an amazing-sounding whirl of glockenspiel, violin, keys, vocals, guitar, drums and whistles.
Review by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
David Greenberger’s review at Metroland
Review at Life After Programming
Kevin Marshall’s review at Kevin Marshall’s America
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “When Bird eschewed the looping device entirely, he was at his best, however. A new song, ‘Lazy Projector,’ which Bird wrote for the upcoming new Muppet movie (but which was rejected), featured just Bird’s spare guitar part and whispered vocal. The other loop-less track was also Muppet-related, a cover of ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’ that admirably captured the heartfelt sweetness and also the humor of the original.”
ANDREW BIRD SET LIST
Hole in the Ocean Floor
Instrumental (from “Useless Creatures”)
A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left
You Woke Me Up!
Bein’ Green (Joe Raposo)
(Improvisation with Dosh)
Tables and Chairs
So Much Wine (Handsome Family)
I’m Goin’ Home (Charley Patton)