Apocalypse Wow: Desiree Weber Reviews Andrew Bird
Dec. 16, Cedar Cultural Center
Review by Desiree Weber
Photos by James Tran
“An Intimate Afternoon with Andrew Bird” is how the Sunday matinee at the Cedar Cultural Club was promoted – and indeed that’s how it turned out. After two sold-out shows at the Guthrie Friday and Saturday night, a crowd of about 400 were treated to a closer listen. Bird’s return to the Cedar stage was somewhat of a homecoming, this being the last show on a tour that started in the same space 136 shows ago, with the support of local heroes Martin Dosh (drums/keyboard), Haley Bonar (vocals) and Jeremy Ylvisaker (guitar/bass).
The ultimate (of three) Andrew Bird shows from the weekend. More photos by James Tran.
The whimsical staging set the mood with multi-headed spinning gramophones, glittery snowflakes lovingly arranged against a velvety blue backdrop and an assortment of amps that would make even a guitar store blanche. The space (not unlike an elementary school gym) plus the stage setting yielded what would happen if your 6th grade music teacher hadn’t been an aging flower child whose sense of egalitarian politics extended to every kid getting to shake the maracas. Instead, Bird delivered a real education in why music matters: skilled musicianship and expertly constructed songs seemed effortless and raised the question why we don’t spend every Sunday afternoon taking in a show.
For the first few songs, Andrew Bird commanded the stage alone in a marathon effort to play at least three instruments per song. Using a dizzying array of pedals, he layered sample over sample and looped them together to create a mosaic of sounds that formed the basis for each song. His technical skill as a musician and versatility as a tunesmith was exhibited on violin, guitar, glockenspiel and even in his whistling – which ranges from happy-go-lucky to quite eerie on a song like “The Giant of Illinois.”
For the rest of the set, he was joined by Dosh and Ylvisaker, with Bonar providing occasional backup vocals. Crowd-pleaser “Fiery Crash” was amazing and followed up by two more songs from his 2007 release Armchair Apocrypha. While his word play could be easily dismissed as convenient songwriting, it turns out that there are real stories behind the whimsy. For example, the song “Spare-Ohs” is about his last batch of chickens which he described as “dysfunctional” and who were fated to meeting their end by conniving raccoons.
Somewhere near the middle of the almost 2-hour set, the audience was treated to 4 brand new songs. “Fits and Dizzy Spells” is a fast, upbeat song with prominent and complimentary guitar and plucked violin parts, while “Section 8 City” is a melancholic, largely instrumental track. Another new song (“Tenuousness”) is a narrative set to an interesting bass line, on which Bird’s resonant vocals almost echo a mournful Johnny Cash.
For these new songs, he explained that he has turned from the post-apocalyptic themes of the previous album to a renewed interest in “language, nature, nomenclature, brains (pause) and snakes.” Make of that what you will; either way Andrew Bird definitely sees the world through a different set of eyes. We should just count ourselves lucky that he has the skill to translate his visions into indie pop as amazing as the first sunset.