Words by James Farrell | Photo by Nick Karp
From the moment Andrew Bird walked out on stage, he made it easy for us to forget about the obnoxious heat that had left most of us uncomfortably moist and dehydrated. The temperature didn’t improve by much as the night went on, but the spirit of the audience who had gathered for the singer-songwriter/violinist/whistler’s free show at the Central Park SummerStage soared by the time it was over.
Bird came on stage by himself with just a violin and, for the first three songs, awed the audience into a jaw-dropping stupor with his one-man orchestral arrangements. Using a mixture of quirky violin plucking, classically influenced violin bowing, inexplicably impressive whistling, and loops, the virtuoso layered rich impromptu arrangements of his songs all by himself. Watching him perform alone on stage is like watching a musical mad scientist conduct the orchestra of his imagination.
The stage decorations, a sock monkey sitting on top of an odd music box-like contraption, added to the sense of whimsical creativity. Near the end of his opening instrumental, he did something that caused the two silver horns on top of the music box to start spinning, and it was clear we were being welcomed into the fantastic world of Andrew Bird’s creation.
Bird’s band, the Hands of Glory, came out after the three solo songs. The band has a notably more old-time and folk influenced sound than when Bird first started, reflecting the direction that his music has taken in recent years. This was particularly notable in a section of four songs that were trimmed down and played around a single microphone.
While the band was on point all night, these folky numbers were among their finest moments. They were filled with warmth and closeness, yet seeping with blazing violin work, tight musicianship, and spot on harmonies.Outside of the single mic set-up, the Hands of Glory played alongside Bird’s loops, while incorporating electric guitar, glockenspiel, and the fantastic pedal steel work of Eric Heywood.
Highlights included “Dear Old Greenland,” from the Bowl of Fire days of Andrew Bird’s career, “Pulaski at Night,” and an especially raucous rendition of “Danse Caribe” from Break it Yourself. “Railroad Bill” was a favorite from the single mic set with its upbeat bluegrass flavor.
The band closed the set with “Tables and Chairs” from The Mysterious Production of Eggs. After starting out soft with violin, Bird asked the crowd to “wait a minute” while he switched to guitar halfway through the song, and the band went out on the loudest, most rock & roll part of the night before returning for their encore.
The impressive musicianship of Andrew Bird and the Hands of Glory was enough to win over the audience, but that shouldn’t serve to eclipse the depth of his lyricism. His words ring with poetic tenderness, scientific terminology, and reckless creativity. His songs are poems set to the ever-changing music of his mind and brought to life through his virtuosity. The audience was fairly motionless as the night went on, but a closer look at their faces revealed everything from dumb smiles to wide open mouths. Clearly, you don’t get the full Andrew Bird experience until you see him on stage.
Hole in the Ocean Floor (solo)
Jesus is a Dying Bedmaker (Hands of Glory enter)
Tin Foiled (*Handsome Family cover)
Dear Old Greenland
Frogs Singing (Handsome Family cover)
Give it Away (one mic)
When That Helicopter Comes (one mic)
Something Biblical (one mic)
Railroad Bill (one mic)
Near Death Experience
Three White Horses
Pulaski at Night
Drunk By Noon (Handsome Family cover)
Tables and Chairs
Cathedral in the Dell (Handsome Family Cover)
Don’t Be Scared (Handsome Family Cover)
*Andrew Bird’s Album, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of… is a collection of Handsome Family covers. The covers in this set are included on that album.
TheWaster.com | NYC