Don't ask me why I've never seen Andrew Bird in concert before. Clearly, I'm a fool for ignoring both my friends' raves and the opinions of other artistic arbiters I hold in high regard. But once I saw that he is a man of good taste (in cupcakes), there was no turning back. And the fact that Evonne made the trek up north with an extra ticket to the sold-out show helped too.
Andrew Bird, the Fillmore, May 1, 2007: Though I had a passing familiarity with Andrew Bird, thanks to various friends who've pushed the MP3s on me, I didn't connect with the music until recently, when of all things, I saw him on Letterman doing "Plasticities." The sound in the Ed Sullivan Studio is notoriously cruel to performers, but Andrew and his crew owned that room. They were simply marvelous, but as I discovered, it was only a hint of what they can do.
As a newbie, I reserve the right to be a total dork in the face of the band's setup, which is probably a mere matter of fact to the experienced fans. The three-man layout, the two oversize gramophone-looking contraptions, and Andrew's array of microphones all caught my attention and served as a peek into the night's performance. Forgive the understatement, but this was not going to be your average bass-drums-guitar show.
Actually, I feel like an idiot even reporting the details of the show because Andrew Bird's particular gifts are no secrets, even if they were on magnificent display at the Fillmore, to the surprise of no one who knows anything about him. Of course his violin skills (in looping and traditional playing) were above reproach, and he whistled like a, errrr, songbird (groan). You'd have to be living under a rock to not know that much.
But what surprised and ultimately dazzled me was the extra dimension that the songs take on at the Fillmore. On the albums I've heard (granted, only a couple of them), the tunes are undeniably original and engaging, but they always felt a little mannered. They never quite grabbed me. Live, though, these same songs didn't grab so much as caress, coax, and lift the senses. OK, more than a few kicked ass and took names too.
There were times when, as Andrew was singing, I could feel myself assuming an almost aspirational position, my head tipped up in search of whatever note he must've been hitting. On more than one song, I internally declared that I had never heard anyone sound so good at the Fillmore--high praise, considering the many amazing voices who've graced the venue. That night, you could've totall convinced me that the Fillmore had been designed specifically with Andrew in mind. Andrew, in turn, revealed that it was the show he had most looked forward to on this tour. He also mentioned that he was thankful for not getting electrocuted (apparently, he had been at the unhappy end of the electrical cord at both Coachella and Amoeba).
Another surprise: I had no idea Andrew was such a great guitar player! His backing band was very good too, especially Martin Dosh, but it was impossible to ignore Andrew's contributions on guitar. On a few songs I can't name, the guitar served as the perfect complement to his voice, cutting through the hush of the Fillmore like a surgical implement. As a concertgoer, you hope for those moments, where the performer has completely captured the attention of the audience, and the audience reciprocates, training their full attention and respect on the performer. We got 'em at this show.
Once again, I plead ignorance as to what songs were played, so I'll offer the one opinion I can get behind: "Fake Palindromes" was a tour de force. I don't think this will be the last time I see Andrew Bird in concert.
Opening the show was Apostle of Hustle, from Toronto, Canada. Their name led me to jump to all sorts of conclusions about how they might be a soul-funk band, or at least something with a nod to R&B. Boy, was I wrong. Their use of a dedicated percussionist in addition to a drummer reminded me of Calexico, though with far less of a Southwestern flair. Their sound turned out to be all over the map, though not in a good way.
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