This was my eighth time seeing Andrew Bird, whose music I have been following well before his 2003 Weather Systems release. My fondness for him has grown over the years and I can definitely sense a growth in his own music, especially between Weather Systems and The Mysterious Production of Eggs. 2007 will see a new Andrew Bird album, of which he played songs from.
When you see a musician eight times, there’s a certain amount of baggage - emotional and otherwise. You know all of the songs and the anticipation is sweet. Yet, you also know how the songs have been reworked live over the years (and have appeared on different Fingerlings recordings.) And while you are hearing one version of a given song, you also can’t help but remember the other versions you’ve heard since this very song’s incarnation. Songwriting is a process and one has to work through the grit but if each one is like a child that grows up, you can’t help remember when the child was much younger and more playful.
The best time I saw Andrew Bird live was probably the first time, while he played The Hideout’s Block Party one summer (note: when it wasn’t the spectacle it was last summer). What made this most special is how Nora O’Connor backed him up on vocals. That soft feminine touch was exactly how I think those songs were really meant to sound and every time I see Bird live, I secretly hope she’ll make an appearance even though I know deep down she won’t. After Nora, I could at least feel accustomed to hearing Andrew Bird being joined by Kevin O’ Donnell. This was not the case at this show. Martin Dosh was instead in charge of drums and filled the air with his drumming and samples before Andrew Bird even took the stage, which left me with a bit of an off-kilter feeling. Andrew Bird has proved himself a master looper, coordinating his violin and guitar playing with his whistling in front of our very own ears and eyes. And while I would have enjoyed Dosh’s music if it had been played on a different night, the electronic quality of it just didn’t felt right in this context. Many of the songs were added to with extra guitar and bass playing as well. I would have rather had some backup female vocals or even some cello, which I imagine would work very nicely within the context of his many intelligent but experiential refrains.
Another point that left me uneasy is the fact that Andrew Bird had a couple of different people just to set up his stuff. This is pretty atypical of him historically and this show was the most riddled with technical difficulties of any show I’ve seen him play. (If, I'm mistaken and he has at some points had people set up his stuff in the past-I didn't see him at Lollapalooza-it at least didn't seem like such a production before.) He had to stop in the beginning to get it all straight again and then a couple of times during the set he would begin playing guitar and no sound would emerge from the instrument. It made me wonder why he had decided to hire people to set up his gear in the first place.
I know this last item is getting really picky but when Andrew Bird re-emerged back on stage after the technical difficulties, he played my favorite song of his first: “Nervous Tick Motion of the Head to the Left.” I was happy to hear it but I enjoy slowly anticipating it. I think it works much better when he plays this song towards the end or even as a last minute encore. Also, I prefer the way the song first appears on The Mysterious Production of Eggs than the way he reworked it. Other highlights of the set included some of my other favorites: “I” “Measuring Cups” and his encore performance of “Tables and Chairs.” Andrew Bird will be playing The Hideout in Chicago on January 13th. Tickets go on sale this Friday.
If you are unfamiliar with Andrew Bird’s worthwhile music, please visit his MySpace page