Live: Andrew Bird in Portland

Music seen at the Music Hall, October 8, 2008
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY  |  October 16, 2008

Best known for his elaborate, impeccably composed avant-pop songs, you’d expect a solo Andrew Bird concert to be spare and intimate without the assistance of a drummer or guitarist. For his nearly-sold-out show in Portsmouth’s Music Hall (complete with a slick and much-heralded bar/lobby expansion), Bird compensated for the absence of bandmates by doing, well, everything himself.

A somewhat truncated list of his feats: plucking and looping violin beats (so fast I was for a while convinced they were programmed); looping handclaps and whistles through an alternate microphone; playing violin with a big, baritone guitar slung behind his back, which he whipped around for a few choruses; matching every note of xylophone he played with whistles in the same key (he also whistled into his violin); and controlling the on/off switch of a twirling, adjustable-speed double-headed gramophone sculpture attached to his violin amp, which created the effect of a helicopter fly-by as each head zipped past a microphone.

“Industrious” is the mannered word for this sort of accomplishment, but “virtuoso” seems more appropriate here. Apart from all this showing off (which only felt like grandstanding in the odd moments where he’d make rehearsed hand gestures or tell crowd-pleasing stories — these ostentatious moves appear to be prerequisites for any large theater performance), Bird revealed himself to be a nimble, genuinely underrated singer. The sing-speaky voice that sounds so blasé on his albums found new depths. “Why?,” a song from his early Bowl of Fire days, was transformed into a Jeff Buckley-covering-Nina Simone scat-athon, and “Natural Disaster,” from his forthcoming album Noble Beast (due in January), was Bird at his best: prophecies of environmental and political decay wrought with delicate intimacy, set to a spaghetti Western score.

  Topics: Live Reviews , Nina Simone, Andrew Bird, Andrew Bird,  More more >
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