Sunday, May 6, 2012

Andrew Bird, Beacon Theater, May 4th, 2012

This was a very cool stage prop. The two horns would move and it would make the sound
move right to left across the Beacon Theater. And it just looks cool. Vintage vestige.
Photo: Stolen

The tone was set early at the Beacon Theater Friday night. It was abundantly clear that this show was destined to be epic. Amongst a sock monkey, hanging sea creatures and an old-style record player with two horns that apparently rotate, Bird baffled the Beacon audience without saying a word. It felt like the opening scene to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. I thought to myself, “perhaps he doesn’t feel like singing tonight” as the first 13-17 minutes of the program was a one-man cloistered fit of violin playing, xylophone, tapping, various whistle patterns and guitar—looped with what must be an expansive foot pedal system. Mouth open. Completely fascinated. 

Why don’t more people know about this guy? SOME people know him, because he was able to sell out two Beacon Theater shows, but in casual conversation, even with people that know music pretty well, he draws a great deal of crickets.  

Bird really holds a precarious niche. He’s been around forever, most notably as the fiddle player on at least the first Squirrel Nut Zippers album. His new album, Break it Yourself, is his 12th studio album. Recorded in his barn around Western Illinois near the Mississippi River, the album, according to Bird is his first truly “communal album.”  It couldn’t come at a better time, because the album is a masterpiece—easily one of the best of the year and perhaps his finest. It’s full, rich, and emotive and more than his previous offerings seems to communicate better lyrically.

Bird is the consummate professional, dressing the part, entering the stage Friday night looking like a business version of Josh Grobin, rocking a 5 O’clock shadow and a suit adorned with a scarf. He’s not too busy-busy fluttering from one flummoxing arrangement to the next to adhere to his audience. When someone loudly requested “Measuring Cups,” he without flinching quipped, “We can do that. We hadn’t planned to…” The bass player even had to retrieve the bass he’d just put away. “Happy to oblige,” remarked Bird before playing the song he had originally scripted. When it was time to close the set with “Tables and Chairs,” Bird foreshadowed dryly, “It’s time for snacks.” Yes, yes it is.  

Some of the songs rocked ridiculously hard for the billing (“Fake Palindromes” comes to mind). I really thought at times I was watching a metro-sexual Jethro Tull. At other times the lavish love of indie-folk-rock-violining made me want to weep for joy, whether playing and singing (which I didn’t know was possible) or straight up plucking as if it were a mandolin (I’d also never seen this style on a violin, therefore didn’t render it possible). Occasionally he’d prophesize his gesticulations singing the lyrics with his hands in the air, flowing to and fro like a college professor giving a dissertation on Zach De La Rocha’s lyrical propaganda.  You can’t spell range without RAGE.

Another sensational dynamic of the show was when the band would break down into a three-piece in front of one microphone and play bluegrass style. They did this in the middle of the set for a couple of the newer songs, as well as, in the encore when they played Charley Patton and Townes Van Zandt covers consecutively. The guitarist stood to the left, straight up and postured high like a mariachi-man, with the standup bass to the right and Bird manning violin and vocals. Scintillating and simple, it grounded the show in vintage vestige.

A whistling renaissance man conjuring a plan to take over the world with a guitar slung over his shoulder, violin in hand, wheeling a xylophone and whistling—smiles are bound to light a path to glittering glory.  

Stock in Andrew Bird…is…wait for it…yes…SOARING!?!?!?  

I don’t have a setlist for the show. It’s pretty similar to the Philly show from the previous night (on Setlist FM), only with the addition of “Measuring Cups.” He also did a KILLER rendition of "It's Not Easy Being Green!?"  

I did, however, come up with some marketing ideas for how to ratchet up Bird’s market share.

Coming soon to stores near you, these fine Andrew Bird products…
  • Andrew Bird Risk: You are not fighting for world domination, rather to educate the world with musical culture. Countries and spoils will be decided with complicated looping dice challenges (like Yahtzee on speed blended with pre calculus) and classical music trivia. Risk matches double if you can whistle the national anthem of a country on your card. Games are only sold at Ivy League school book stores, but, somehow, most of the orders seem to come from Ann Arbor, MI.
  • AB’s Snack Line: Marketers need not worry about the atmosphere. Tables and chairs not included, but there will be snacks, there will.
  •  Andrew Bird’s Billy Joel cover album: Come on. We all want to hear how he’d personally recreate the whistle in “Allentown” or his complex layered version of “The Stranger” and of course the Chicago barn sing-a-long and hootenanny, “The Xylophone Man.”
  • Spirit of the Wild: Andrew Bird joins Ted Nugent on the often-ignored low budget hunting show. Bird shows Nugent how to call birds with various musical instruments. When Nugent actually starts killing the animals, they square off, bow and arrow against violin bow. You think I’m an idiot? Well, I’m pretty sure this scenario inspired an actual Bird song called “Spare-Oh.” You can find this at most NYC street illegal DVD vendors.
  • Andrew Bird’s Clothing Line: Wear it Yourself will sell AB’s featured concert gear. Doesn’t it suck that you can’t wear your concert t-shirts in the office? Fear no longer, you can dress like the cerebral, stoic violin virtuoso five days a week. And just like when you listen to him, nobody will know what the hell is going on.
  • The Andrew Bird Humidifier: Yup, it whistles while it works. It taps exquisite xylophone beats when it’s about to run out of water, leaving your living space cool and well moisturized.
  •  Andrew Bird’s Measuring Cups: Instructions for the game to measure your brain not included. 

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