There's A New Sound...

Even if I haven't been able to participate in a lot of the holiday happenings around the city that are close to my heart this year, I did make sure to secure tickets to see Andrew Bird, my favorite musician, who seems to do a downtown concert every year around Christmastime (probably because he is a Chicago native himself, and he's in town for the holidays). The past two years, he did mostly instrumental concerts at the 4th Presbyterian Church structured around the Dutch concept of Gezelligheid, or familiar coziness. Instrumental music isn't really my favorite, but I made a point of going and waiting in line in freezing cold temperatures just to see Andrew Bird play live.

This year's theme was similarly experimental, as it was tied into his current sound installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art, entitled "Sonic Arboretum." The piece is a collaboration with sculptor and sound engineer Ian Schneller, with whom Bird has worked for years to create a series of unique speakers, constructed out of recycled materials and designed to emulate both traditional phonograph horns and organic shapes from nature.

"Sonic Arboretum" places 75 of these speakers throughout the atrium of the museum, and throughout the day it plays a variety of original pieces that Bird composed on site at the museum. As you move through the space, you experience the sounds in different ways, as their textures change and bounce against the various surfaces. It all sounds very pretentious and artsy-fartsy, and it really kind of is, though it's interesting if you're an Andrew Bird fan.

In conjunction with the installation, Bird was scheduled to perform two "Sonic Events" at that museum, consisting of more traditional concerts utilizing the unique speaker setup.  I actually found out about the shows through my friend Chaya, who is also a fan, as the entire MCA collaboration wasn't even on my radar screen back when tickets went on sale. Dutifully, I snapped up a pair of tickets before they sold out.

Being up close means the best photo I've ever gotten of the sock monkey that accompanies Bird to all of his performances.
Justin and I met up with Darrell, who I originally introduced to Andrew Bird a couple years back, at the show, and due to Darrell's getting there earlier than us, we managed to be about one row back from the stage in the standing-room-only crowd. It was, by far, the closest I've ever been at an Andrew Bird show, and this is the fifth time I've seen him live.

Surprisingly, given the venue, and the somewhat high-minded aspirations of the installation, the "Sonic Event" turned out to be the most normal Andrew Bird concert I've seen in ages. He only played one song off the new album that he's finally releasing in 2012, "Lazy Projector," and filled the evening instead with some of his older material. He played "Plasticities" off of Armchair Apocrypha, and not one, but two songs off of The Mysterious Production of Eggs: "Tables and Chairs" and "Skin Is, My," which was an audience request. Nice as it was to hear some old favorites, for me, the highlight of the evening was, by far, when Bird performed "It's Not Easy Being Green," which he recorded for the Muppets' compilation The Green Album earlier this year. Two things I love -- the Muppets and Andrew Bird --  when combined, are pretty much the best thing ever.

Of course, Bird did play a few instrumental pieces, including some of those that he had composed at the MCA specifically for the "Sonic Arboretum" installation, but the main portion of the show were recognizable songs, and for that, I was very grateful. I've already got tickets to see Bird perform in May in support of his upcoming album, and tonight's show definitely whetted my appetite for that. I can't wait!

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