Andrew Bird: Classical, intricate, alive

Andrew Bird is a one-man show, but Calvin’s stage is littered with instruments — a piano, a drum set, a xylophone and other various odds and ends. Sitting in the back is something that looks like a Siamese gramophone with a monkey attached to it. Is Andrew Bird going to play all of these instruments? No. Ken Hefner made clear at the beginning of the show that he was going to be joined by Mason Jar Music, if only briefly.

Bird walks onto the stage and wordlessly starts plucking his violin. The room is quiet. Then it sounds as if two violins are plucking, doing a playful dance with each other, but on stage it’s still just Bird. Layers continue to stack upon each other — whistles, strums, long draws of a bow. It’s amazing how many sounds Bird is able to pull from his violin. Before too long there’s an entire symphony of violins onstage, intricately and seamlessly pieced together. Bird still controls the flow, slowing down when he needs to, turning certain loops off with, all with the tap of a foot. Then the Siamese gramophone starts spinning like a tornado siren, causing the music in the room to swell in and out like a warbly old record.

If anyone didn’t know before, now they do; Bird is a classically trained musician, able to mix classical music with indie-rock like they were cut from the same cloth. Pop, blues, jazz — Bird entertains them all. I would hate to pin him down. His music is like a piece of literature being written in front of you, deeply thought out, and yet improvised, spontaneous.

In his song “Why?” he casually flicks his hand and chats to the audience in the sultry voice of a performer at a late night cabaret. “Damn you for being so easygoing,” he croons to some long-gone lover before jumping back into his violin blues. His music gives him voice, allowing him to jump into different roles from song to song. In “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left,” he enacts the songs title, leaving lyrics in fragments as the nervous tic overwhelms him.

Closing my eyes, I forget the lonely creature on stage and float on the music. Moments of beauty like “A Hole in the Ocean Floor” color the air like an understated cinematic score. Songs like “Three White Horses” visit eerie places while Bird crouches on the floor with his looping system, warping the song he just recorded to something ghostly and haunted.

Mason Jar Music comes on to the stage help Bird finish the show. They fill all the empty space, giving life to the instruments strewn about. There’s more energy with them there, dancing and playing along expertly with Bird, who they watch carefully at every moment. Maybe he would benefit from having a team of musicians more often; or, maybe there’s more to gain from his lonesome musical ponderings. Both bring something different to the table — a social gathering versus a dreamy reflection.

His music is still wafting around the rafters of my head as I walk back into my house. I feel like I just watched a genius reflect on life before my eyes, and I can’t help but feel that every reflection Bird gives will take a different direction, explore different ideas, mean something different for everyone.

Photo by James Li
Photo by James Li