Andrew Bird with Loney Dear at Roseland Ballroom
Portland, February 21, 2009
With the economic crisis this country is facing right now we can’t afford Andrew Bird. There are too many jobless folks out there for us to allow Bird to fill so many roles by himself. In the span of an hour and a half and with the aid of multiple digital delay pedals and the sheer force of his talent, Bird displaced as many as an entire chamber orchestra by dint of sonic cloning. Imagine a world in which each one of us could simply conjure the idea of a car and then build it piece-by-piece before your neighbor’s incredulous eyes. That’s exactly what I saw in Portland this weekend and it is unsettling.
You can barely see Andrew Bird when he comes on stage. He’s a waif of a man and is dwarfed by the multitude of gear surrounding him. He’s like a sliver in the toe of a lion. But it is he who owns and controls his surroundings. Jumping from violin to guitar to xylophone to God knows what else (I could hardly keep track of the man’s flurry of energy and inspiration), Andrew Bird seemingly composes on-site and in real time. He starts and stops if the tempo isn’t right. He shakes his head and shutters in silent rage and then, somehow, creates impossible layers of sound that climb to crescendos too epic to be coincidence. He has a plan…oh, and he has a band that in other worlds would outshine the star they’re assigned to support, but not in Andrew’s universe.
All of this sounds experimental and freaky and “artsy” but underneath it all is Andrew Bird’s slavish devotion to melody and his idiot savant pop sensibilities. Why God chose to bless this already over-flowing vessel with a pitch-perfect and soulful voice just may be the proof of His existence skeptics like me have been searching for. Yes, Andrew Bird melts hearts with his voice too.
I’ve seen Andrew Bird several times. My years in Chicago had us crossing paths at the Hideout and Schubas and, I think, even the Metro. I don’t know if it’s my state of mind right now as a stranger in a VERY strange town or if he’s peaking now as a musician but his undeniable talent never moved me much in previous encounters but now has me baffled. I knew he was talented—even scary talented—but that never moved me until now. Maybe this weekend was the perfect intersection of performance and perception that allowed me to move from detached acceptance of Andrew Bird as a musician and into the realm of full-fledged fan.
Opening for Bird were Swedish epic popsters Loney, Dear (that’s not a typo, it’s Loney) who are just this side of a soundtrack hit that propels them to Shins success. These dudes trade in soaring choruses and heartbreaking melodies. The acoustics for their set were too muffled to know for sure but I think they might also have that charming blessing-in-disguise of not being native English speakers and therefore the authors of slightly off-kilter lyrical twists that puzzle Americans enough to think they’re profound. Either way, I’ll be checking them out when they return in May.
Video: Andrew Bird – “Imitosis”
• Andrew Bird – “Heretics” from Armchair Apocrypha.
• Andrew Bird – “Why?” from Live In Montreal
• Loney Dear – “Airport Surroundings” from Dear John