There is only one musician who could prompt me to justify standing outside in sub-freezing temperatures on a sprained ankle and foot and a bruised knee tendon (I went to the doctor this morning to confirm the diagnosis) to wait for an optimum general admission seat for a concert in which mostly instrumental music would be played. That artist is Andrew Bird. He is far and away my favorite musician. I love his work so much that I can't even identify my favorite song of his, because I enjoy all of them so much. His style is an eclectic fusion of his virtuosic violin talent layered with guitar and his own whistling, which he records on stage and plays back to accompany his vocals. His songwriting, while often nonsensical, demonstrates a remarkable talent for stringing together obscure and erudite words that sound pleasant when combined.
Although this clip isn't from the specific concert I saw tonight, it demonstrates how he layers together his music to create a song.
I first became aware of Andrew Bird when I was in college and my friend Joy recommended him to me. I downloaded his CD, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, and was completely blown away. I've subsequently fallen in love with his later works, Armchair Apocrypha and Noble Beast. Joy had told me all those years ago that Andrew Bird was absolutely incredible live, but I didn't have an opportunity to see him until he performed a free concert in Chicago's Millennium Park in the summer of 2007. I went with a friend, and our lawn seats were way in the back, but Joy did not overstate in the least. As it turns out, Bird (a Chicago native) has something of a penchant for performing in strange venues, so when he announced a concert series at Chicago's Civic Opera House this April, I bought my ticket the very moment they became available. For that concert, I had great seats in the first row of the balcony, and with the better acoustics at the opera house, I discovered a whole new appreciation for Andrew Bird's improvisational live performances. I knew then that I would make every effort to see him perform whenever he was going to be in town.
However, when I heard about his upcoming concert, I took pause: he would be trying out a new concert concept structured around the Dutch concept of Gezelligheid, which translates loosely to coziness. His Chicago show would be held at the landmark 4th Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue (again, the strange affinity for unusual concert venues), and would consist of mostly instrumental music. The thing is, I really don't like instrumental music. The thing I value most in music is the craft of songwriting, and its power to evoke emotion through the combination of sonorous word pairings. But, for Andrew Bird, I decided to suck it up and go anyway. If anyone could teach me how to appreciate music without words, it would be him.
Still, I was mentally cursing myself as I arrived in the vicinity of the church an hour and a half before the concert was to start, with a line already forming. Evidently, Andrew Bird has other fans loyal (and stupid) enough to risk hypothermia to see him perform live. I had planned to scout out the area for food options, but with my range of motion severely hampered by my injuries, I decided to just get in line. After an hour, I was starting to have visions of spending my evening in the emergency room having my frostbitten toes amputated, but in the end, my perseverance was rewarded with what was by far the best seat I've ever had at an Andrew Bird concert -- third row, center.
The stage set-up was pretty typical for Andrew Bird. He's been using these distinctive Specimen speakers, shaped like phonograph horns, for as long as I've been seeing him in concert.
The sock monkey in the three-piece suit is also a constant companion at his concerts.
Considering how much I love church architecture, I was quite pleased with this choice of venue, which featured some particularly nice stained glass.
I honestly don't even have the words to describe how phenomenal the concert was. I never thought I would be able to make it through so much instrumental music without being bored, but I was so fascinated with how Andrew Bird kept building and altering his melodies that I couldn't help but be enthralled. He claimed that his goal was to recreate the experience of the music he makes in his home studio, housed in a barn on his western Illinois farm, and in large part I did have the sense that I was watching him workshop new material. The performance definitely had the feeling of a one-man jam session. He did perform four of his songs with lyrics: "Nomenclature," "Natural Disaster," "Scythian Empires," and "The Giant of Illinois," which was enough to keep me happy. Heck, after this experience today, I would be willing to check out any experimental concert concepts he might devise in the future.
I felt a particular personal solidarity with him this evening, as he was forced to scale down some of his usual stage theatrics and perform the entire concert sitting down; he sprained his foot in a concert in Minneapolis last week.