December 2010

Chicago Tribune

Bird flies majestically at Fourth Presbyterian Church
December 17, 2010|By Bob Gendron, Special to the Tribune

Andrew Bird won’t need any toys for Christmas. The local multi-instrumentalist, who already possesses one of the coolest-looking and natural-sounding amplification systems in the music industry, debuted multiple additions to his collection of lavish horn speakers Wednesday at the first show of a sold-out three-night stand at Fourth Presbyterian Church. Like a little boy eager to prove deserving of a reward, Bird didn’t let the majestic display go to waste.

Aesthetically and acoustically, concerts don’t come much better. Surrounded by dozens of Victrola-style speakers crafted by Chicago-based Specimen, Bird filled an enchanting 100-minute set with impromptu detours, old favorites and promising new material. Chiaroscuro lighting and towering stained-glass windows radiated a warm winter glow. While only in their second annual incarnation, Bird’s “Gezelligheid” (a Dutch term loosely meaning “coziness”) shows are becoming must-see events.

“This gives me a chance to stretch out and play more than I usually get to in a concise pop song,” Bird announced, explaining the concept behind the festive affair. Performing as if he’d invited friends to a private practice, he appeared completely relaxed, admitting errors and flashing a lighthearted sense of humor. Bird resembled a preoccupied English professor. He shuffled around in stocking feet, wore a sports coat and seemed unaware of a few locks of hair dangling like spider legs on his forehead. Several mannerisms—he occasionally forgot to trigger loops, broke off sentences and addressed topics from quirky lyrical perspectives—added to the absentminded impression.

Yet primarily, Bird captivated with frequency manipulation and layered melody. Tunes burst with enthusiasm and originality. On “Give It Away,” he engaged in a two-person dialog with himself while plucking spry violin passages that accented the narrative’s comedic character. Pocket symphonies such as “Desperation Breeds” fused jazz rhythms and chamber-pop hooks. Bird juggled Celtic jigs, bittersweet waltzes, country blues and Kenyan folk dances with the same gracefulness that he strummed guitars, plinked xylophones, scraped violins, sang and whistled—often during a single song.

Effectiveness remained independent of the approach. A cover of Charley Patton’s “I’m Goin’ Home” coursed with electricity during a stripped-down presentation that witnessed Bird return to the traditional elements that inform his complex, effects-laden arrangements.