October 8, 2008

One-Man Band Wows State Theater

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Andrew Bird put on a dazzling affair this past weekend at the State Theater. The Illinois musician and one-man army of sound captivated the 1,000+ people in attendance, juggling responsibilities as violinist and guitarist as he charmed the crowd with his banter.
Simply put, he was a blur of motion and sound on stage. Darting from one instrument to another, bird engaged the audience with his ethereal whistling and multi-layered, melodious compositions. Disarming everyone present with his unbelievable musical talent, the musician produced deep, rich and textured harmonies that saturated the beautiful old theater.
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He was not alone in creating the electric atmosphere Saturday evening, though. The night started off with Sandro Perri, a Toronto-based musician who played a small set of folk songs as the audience filed in. One foot placed deftly on a bass drum pedal, Perri plucked away on his hollow-bodied jazz guitar humbly. His music was comforting and pleasant and provided a solid introduction for the main entertainment billing of the night, Mr. Bird.
Walking onto the stage with little fanfare, Bird dove straight into music. To overcome the difficulties inherent to being a one-man band, he recorded the harmony from his pizzicato finger-picking, then looped it over as he segued from violin to another component of the song. Bird’s music performance was organic in every sense of the word. Beginning with about 30 seconds of a sweeping violin piece, he then switched instruments smoothly to his Gibson ES-175 jazz guitar, recalling his recorded violin or guitar pieces at whim as his spontaneously-created sound stratums eventually swirled together. Holding the audience in rapture, he plowed through some of his old classics as well as displaying some new material from his forthcoming album, The Noble Beast.
Kicking off his shoes and making himself comfortable — as he adjusted his horn speakers and placed a stuffed monkey doll on top of a table on stage — Bird materialized full-bodied songs out of nothingness. After playing a few intro songs that “always get the tics going,” he descended into the eponymous “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head”; the different dimensions of sound coalesced into a final product that caused the hushed audience to burst into applause.
Bird took this opportunity to introduce us to his “backing band” — a pair of large horns, and his Janus horn from Specimen products (affectionately named “Spinny”) which transformed Bird’s unorthodox whistling, handclaps, plucked strings and other peculiar aural additions into a symphonic Doppler-effect-filled affair.
The “backing band” did a solid job of animating songs from his last album, Armchair Apocrypha. The guitar arpeggios and intertwined violin segments on “Plasticities” sounded crisp as Bird recounted “fighting for your music halls/dying cities,” realizing at the song’s close that someone had definitely fought for the stately venue he was currently performing his magic in. Recently created songs like “Natural Disaster” also benefited from the setting, and whether Bird was hammering on marimbas and glockenspiels or utilizing his classical Suzuki violin training, his songs came across majestic and affecting.
The night was not devoid of minor quirks though — there were couple of minor audio breakdowns in the beginning of the show. Additionally, at one point during the concert, an errant audience member ran up to the stage and tossed a shirt to Mr. Bird, which, unfolded, displayed Obama ’08. Bird then mumbled, in a deadpan manner, “I approve this message,” before returning to his music.
The night was probably best encapsulated, though, by his performance of “Tables & Chairs,” a song with a complex bridge that would make it too difficult for him to shift instruments with the same sort of facility he had achieved all night. At Bird’s suggestion, the audience provided the choral melody, fully supporting Bird’s theory of “music being a communal thing, something that everyone should participate in.”
That communal spirit certainly was on display as Andrew Bird quietly walked off the stage to the echoing reverb from the instruments, the audiences’ voices and thunderous applause.