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Bird concert a reminder of God in music

The concert was part of this year's Festival of Faith and Music.  Photo by James Li.

The concert was part of this year's Festival of Faith and Music. Photo by James Li.

The concert was part of this year's Festival of Faith and Music. Photo by James Li.

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I have been a devoted Andrew Bird fan for about six years, ever since hearing a song on a podcast by the radio station KEXP. Since then, I’ve been captivated and inspired by his multi-instrumental virtuosity, dynamic whistling, inspired arrangements and captivating, cryptic lyrics. But it was finally seeing him live this past weekend at the Festival of Faith and Music that really drove home for me just what I like about him.

Absent his usual touring band, Bird entertained the sizable crowd for a 50-minute set using his trademark set of looping pedals to orchestrate innovative layers of violin plucking, scraping and bowing, even layering on some whistling, glockenspiel and guitar into the mix, his custom-made speaker rotating behind him all the while. Occasionally, he left his looping hub at the center of the stage and went off to the side; when performing the new song “Something Biblical,” off of his recent EP “Hands of Glory” (a brilliant country-folk record, by the way), he wailed on his violin like Eddie Van Halen; it was something to see. It was just as haunting as it is on record, but here, it sounded far more intimate because it was just one man, singing his heart out. It was a remarkably intimate moment.

Something I didn’t anticipate was just how funny Bird was, working the crowd like a stand-up comedian between songs. When introducing “Biblical,” he said the opening lines  ”Take your apples from the earth/And your fingerlings from the air” were inspired by how the French word for potato translates as “apple of the earth,” but he changed potatoes to “fingerlings” because “’potatoes’ is an inherently unlyrical word.”

After his set, Andrew Bird was joined by the members of Mason Jar Music — the instrumental/visual group that backed up Josh Garrels the following night — for a four-song set that opened up sonically and lyrically, including a new song “Alasky [sic] At Night,” which exhorts the listener to “Come back to Chicago/The city of light.” Somebody notify Paris.

The only low point was that Bird did not sign anything after the show, due to having to play in Chicago the following night. I was upset, but I understand; after all, his live setup must take a long time to get together. Besides, he answered my question during the Q&A portion of an interview, and what more could a fan ask for?

As I said, Bird’s lyrics are cryptic, but student activities office director Ken Heffner has referred to him as someone whose music is “Christ-haunted,” meaning that he detects the void left with the absence of Christ and strives to fill it. After seeing him plead that “There’s a hole in the ocean floor/ Gonna stop bleeding alone” — from the song “Hole in the Ocean Floor” — I couldn’t agree more.

Bird helped me realize something that was only solidified by Josh Garrels the following night. While God is present in all genres of music, certainly, it seems that he is most visible right now within the genre of American roots music, and I think people see that. Why else would Mumford & Sons be a headlining act in 2013?

All in all, this was a transcendent, remarkable experience, as beautiful and uplifting as any of his albums have been, but added with that extra adrenaline of the live performance. For anyone who missed out, I am truly sorry; if you get the chance to see him live, do it. No matter the venue or cost, do it. You won’t regret it.

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