LIVE: Andrew Bird @ The Egg, 3/5/18

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Review by Steven Stock

Andrew Bird began his mesmerizing performance at The Egg’s Hart Theatre with two lengthy solo violin suites. Solo, yet not unaccompanied, as his lyrical violin excursions were underpinned by recorded sounds and loops. Screens above and on each side of the stage displayed footage taped where Bird first devised the pieces, beneath the Hyperion Bridge in the Los Angeles River and in Utah’s forbidding yet gorgeous Coyote Gulch canyon.

It was a pretty audacious way to open a show – Bird didn’t say a word until those two pieces were over, 21 minutes into the set – but it absolutely worked. What followed was even better, as Bird’s band (Tyler Chester on keyboards, Alan Hampton on bass and Abe Rounds on drums) joined him onstage for 100 glorious minutes of chamber-pop and hipster hootenanny.

Bird switched from guitar to violin throughout the set. Although his guitar-playing isn’t as flashy or virtuosic as his violin work, its elemental simplicity is effective enough. “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” is by design a slightly demented song with thrash-guitar that builds to a satisfying, conventional climax. “Capsized” alludes to breaking up yet the rousing chorus suggests that any adversity can be overcome.

Promisingly, two of the evening’s best songs were new, as-yet-unreleased additions to Bird’s catalog. “Bloodless” showcased the band’s contributions, with Chester switching to a baby grand piano for a lovely repetitive motif while Rounds created tension with a restrained shuffling tempo. He’s not a showy drummer, he just plays what the compositions demand, never rushing the beat.

After a relatively raucous version of “Roma Fade,” the band went into hootenanny mode, Hampton and Chester strumming acoustic guitars while Bird soared on violin (given the music’s country tinge, perhaps I should call it a fiddle), all three of them huddled in front of Rounds’ kit. “My Sister’s Tiny Hands” ably represented Bird’s superb 2014 tribute to the Handsome Family, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…

The other new song that captivated me was the understated-yet-evocative “Archipelago,” which the band had recorded at West Hurley’s Dreamland Studios just the day before their Egg performance. Chester was back on piano for this one, while Rounds gently shook a pair of maracas. Bird insisted that the title is pronounced “arc-a-puh-lago” with an elongated third a, not the standard “arc-a-pell-ago.” No matter how you pronounce it, it’s a beautiful tune.

A cover version of Neil Young’s “Harvest” was the first encore and served as a reminder that Bird is actually a pretty fair singer in addition to his other talents. He definitely brought his own distinctive sense of phrasing to a song I’ve heard hundreds of times. Again I was impressed by Rounds’ restraint, as he provided the merest hint of a beat. Then it was back to the hootenanny cluster for “Railroad Bill,” before Bird finished with a gripping solo rendition of “Weather Systems.”

ANDREW BIRD SET LIST
Echolocations: River
Echolocations: Canyon
A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left
Capsized
Bloodless
Why?
Truth Lies Low
Are You Serious?
Roma Fade
My Sister’s Tiny Hands (Handsome Family)
Orpheo Looks Back
Give It Away
Three White Horses
Sisyphus
Archipelago
Pulaski at Night
Danse Caribe
ENCORES
Harvest (Neil Young)
Railroad Bill
Weather Systems

SECOND OPINIONS
Alyssa Ladzinski’s review and Jim Gilbert’s photographs at NYS Music

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