Monday, February 23, 2009

His Machinations and his Palindromes

It's not every day I would recommend that you pay money to see a man play with himself, but today's that day: Everyone ought to see Andrew Bird live. And while he does tour with a band, as he did at a great concert at Los Angeles' Orpheum Theatre on February 18, a good two-thirds of the fascination is watching him build wonderful walls of sound all by himself. Part of that is he's so skilled in so many things, from violin to glockenspiel, vocals to whistling, with the almost ordinary guitar throw in. The other part is his magnificent manipulation of pedal loops, so as he sets a phrase going, he can leave it going, altering its pace or pitch, and then play over that, too. Before you know it there are bowed parts, plucked parts, and then his woolly whistling, which often adds a theremin feel to a number.

For Bird's music is about tone and texture as much as anything, mood music in which the moods shift like sun and shadow over a beautiful landscape that never seems quite welcoming. There's an element of danger to his music, as mild as it is: it's an anything-could-happen quality that's both magical and a bit anxiety-provoking. It's why he's not mere pap or picturesque prettiness.

The lyrics help there, too, of course. He asks us, cheerfully, to envision the fiery crash. And while songs rarely deign to hang a narrative, they tend to hit like lines pulled from books from the same shelf of a library, impressionistic near neighbors from something dusty and printed and nearly obsolete. Sort of like us. So might as well enjoy the weird music playing as we sift through the plasticities, or as that song's calling out for a sing-along chorus goes:

we'll fight, we'll fight
we'll fight for your music halls
and dying cities

they'll fight, they'll fight
for your neural walls
and plasticities
and precious territory

Here he is doing "Anonanimal" from the very show we were at, plus introducing it by referring to the show when we saw him the first time (we are special):

Or go hear a whole concert from this tour on NPR.



Blogger regina said...

Great post. That must have been an amazing show. I've been listening to him a lot lately...

10:49 AM  

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