Bird Watching...

With our entertainment budget limited as it is right now, splurges are rare for us. Tonight, I made an exception to attend another concert by Andrew Bird, who is not only my favorite musician, but one of the few performers that I have any interest in seeing live. I try to see him whenever he comes through Chicago, which is usually at least once a year, given that it is his hometown, though the number of traditional concerts he performs seems to be pretty small. Instead, he seems more interested in experimental performance structures, like the Gezelligheid shows he performed at the Third Presbyterian Church two Christmases in a row, or the intimate show he did in conjunction with his sound installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art last year. Hence, when I heard that he was going to perform a conventional concert at the Auditorium Theater to promote his new album, Break It Yourself, I knew I had to be there.

Since Justin and I don't make it down to the South Loop very often these days, we started our evening with dinner at Tamarind, the site of our first date. It's a sentimental favorite of ours, and I'm glad that it's still there for us to revisit. After our meal, we headed over to the theater, and began the arduous task of climbing to our seats, which were, by far, the worst seats I've ever had for an Andrew Bird concert. Normally, I'm willing to shell out more money for decent tickets, but Andrew Bird is extremely popular in his hometown, and his shows here regularly sell out in a matter of hours. Tickets for this one went on sale while I was at work, so I didn't have a chance to buy them until several hours after they had gone on sale, and I was lucky to get seats in the second to last row of the upper balcony. Even if we could barely see, we could still hear perfectly, due to the Auditorium Theater's formidable acoustics and sound system.

As per usual, Andrew Bird seems to have a vendetta against his fans, and subjected us to another miserable opening act. I've gotten to the point where I almost prefer his unusual, small-venue shows, because he is less likely to have an opener, because ever band I've ever seen open for him has been uniformly awful. One time, it was a Transylvanian-style folk duo consisting of an accordionist and a violin player, and another, it was a avant-garde jazz guitarist who seemed to think that tuning his instrument somehow constituted a musical composition. This time, we were forced to sit through Mucca Pazza, a self-described "circus-punk marching band," whose M.O. seemed to consist of a large number of musicians in mismatched costumes playing mildly tolerable music, and dancers dressed as cheerleaders milling aimlessly around, occasionally executed half-hearted, not necessarily synchronized routines. Needless to say, I was glad when it was over and Andrew Bird finally took the stage.

After last year's concert at the MCA, Justin was wary of giving Andrew Bird another try, as he didn't care for Bird's more experimental improvisational style. This time around, he seemed to really enjoy the show, which had the benefit of having a band to provide back-up instrumentals, as well as a female vocalist. Justin was pleased to hear a few songs that he was familiar with, including "Fake Palindromes," which is the ring-tone on my phone, but mostly, Bird stuck to material from the new album, which was fine with me.

Even though Andrew Bird is my favorite musician, I find that every time he comes out with a new album, it takes me a great deal of time to get into it. In fact, I often react quite negatively to his new work, and it is only after I force myself to listen to it several times that I begin to appreciate it. I'm not sure why that is, but it was certainly the case with Break It Yourself, which seems to have an even more mellow vibe than many of his previous albums. I've been listening to it on-and-off for weeks on my daily commute, but it mostly just kept putting me to sleep, and I couldn't get into it.

Hearing Bird perform the songs live, however, and getting to hear some of the stories behind them, gave me the sense of appreciation that I'd been lacking before. Though he didn't play the song from Break It Yourself that I enjoyed the most, "Sifters," I discovered a new fondness for others, such as "Near Death Experience," "Lazy Projector," and even "Lusitania," which I have never enjoyed across the several years that Bird has played fragments of it at concerts I've attended while he was working on it. That's what a powerful live performer he is.

Of course, my heart lit up with glee when he played Kermit the Frog's anthem, "Bein' Green," which has been a part of Bird's set list ever since he recorded the song for the compilation of Muppets covers, The Green Album, last year. His other covers were less memorable, and seemed to be drawn mostly from old-school folk and bluegrass artists I've never heard of, but such things are the source of his hipster cred. Still, it was interesting to hear him employ his talents in a different musical style, especially when he chose to unplug and play acoustic. In fact, I think the acoustic portions were Justin's favorite part of the show, largely because it was the easiest to understand Bird's admittedly mumbled delivery without the instruments to drown him out.

Overall, I consider the outlaying of funds to see this show money very well spent. I'd gladly shell out to see Andrew Bird the next time he's in town, and until then, I'll be listening to Break It Yourself on my iPod until I've made myself completely sick of it.

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