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Andrew Bird took the stage at Chautauqua on Wednesday, with a modesty that could only come from a place of true dedication to his craft. With wicker baskets that somewhat resembled twirling strands of DNA hanging behind him, the slender violinist stood alone at first. His concentration washed softly over the room and the audience was immediately still.
Right away Bird pulled his violin to his chest and began plucking a bright and carefree melody. He pressed a pedal, and then began producing a new harmonized tune that easily looped over the first. The weaving violin, with a little sprinkle of glockenspiel, gradually built into what would be a perfect soundtrack for running through a meadow. As his gramophone awakened and began spinning, the song slowly morphed into “Sifters.” As Bird cooed the line, “Moon plays the ocean like a violin,” viewers seemed to sink happily into their seats.
This was the standard fare of the night: Bird explored themes like the universe, memory and history while he also had fun goofing around with improvisation. The lovely pairing of these two sides of music clearly had the audience mesmerized.
The show’s set primarily consisted of songs from his newest album “Break it Yourself,” released earlier this year. The album, with its pop-folksy sound, generally set the tone for the night, but after his band joined him onstage, Bird tossed the audience his alternative classic “A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left.” For the first time in the show, Bird showed off his famous whistling chops and the song had a new Western feel that elicited the image of a runaway train. When Bird would stop for dramatic pauses to tic his head to the left, the audience laughed and the energy of the room climbed.
Despite being a seated show, Bird managed to maintain a pretty consistent lightness to the whole performance and the show was constantly interesting. “Desperation Breeds” was a pretty moment that still allowed the musicians to really meld together their sounds into a jam in the middle. After deeming the loop for the ending of “Danse Carribe” to be “poor,” the audience loudly approved of the noticeable increase in force and the newly energized stick-slapping beat was well worth the effort. Later, “Skin is, My,” though somewhat haphazard in parts with off-beat sounds, really brought out a groove that the show had yet to see.
Other more melancholy songs, like “Effigy” and “Lazy Projector,” delivered emotional punches that can sometimes be less obvious when listening to them on record. The yearning strength of Bird’s voice mixed with the improvised power packed into both songs really helped them to soar during the performance. Even “Lull,” a song that’s plodding tempo reflects it’s title, had a new drive on stage and, by the end, Bird had truly conveyed the frustration of being lost between extremes of everyday life.
However, Bird clearly won the heart of the audience when he compared playing Chautauqua with the Grand Ole Opry, announcing that it was time for things to go back in time. To the sound of cheers, he, his guitarist and his bassist (who now held a stand-up bass) huddled around an “old-timey” microphone and really resembled a Depression-era folk band. In this new mentality, the group played a version of “MX Missiles” that had an unexpected, yet refreshing southern bounce. Bird even added some theatrical stresses to phrases like “Cause if you’re calcium-based, I’m gonna have to take a taste” that elicited giggles across the venue. The trio also played two new folksy songs from a forthcoming album that Bird plans to record this year – one of which, he said, had actually been finished right before the show.
The encore, unfortunately, did not do the rest of the performance justice. The band finished playing the infectious “Tables and Chairs,” which, besides the fact that is usually their final song, is even more likable live with a fuller sound and Bird’s improvised lyrics. After the high of the song, the band returned for their encore with a cover song that, while it did inspire a brief hoe-down-style clapping, the energy fizzled out awkwardly. The second song “Don’t Be Scared” off his album “Weather Systems,” was pretty, but painfully slow for a closer. Though both songs were harmless, but it was an anti-climactic end to a solid performance.
With several song restarts and Bird’s generally quirky sense of humor, even the man of the hour had to admit with a smile that he thought this particular show was “peculiar.” However, no one in the audience seemed to notice or care. As Bird and his band finally walked offstage for good, there was a moment where fans stood waiting after their second standing ovation. It seemed as though they were hoping maybe, just maybe, Andrew Bird might throw one last wonderful peculiarity their way.
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Stephanie Riesco at Stephanie.firstname.lastname@example.org.