Andrew Bird: Bionic man amazes at Radio City Music Hall
Andrew Bird is a mad genius. After seeing him live last night at Radio City Music Hall, I realized watching him in-person is like watching a circus performer with a wonderfully weird case of ADD. He’ll start on the violin. Thirty seconds later, he’s on the guitar, or will have turned the violin on its side to play it like a mandolin. Then he’ll start to sing. Mid-sentence, he’ll stop to whistle for a spell. Then he’ll quickly be back on the guitar, or perhaps go for a turn on the glockenspiel.
Throughout, he incorporates the help of his magical loop pedals, which make him sound like he’s doing six million things at once. Seeing the intrepid multi-instrumentalist/multitasker perform is an incredible sight to be behold, especially given that his 2009 album Noble Beast sounds so fluid and well-produced, that you don’t really stop to think about the technique behind it.
The dapper-looking whistle-blower played for the better part of 90 minutes, performing a number of Noble Beast‘s usual suspects: An amplified, sped-up version of “Oh No,” and a spirited rendition of the tongue-twisty “Fitz and Dizzyspells.”
The Beast stunner, though, was “Effigy”: Bird prefaced the song with the night’s only lengthy introduction, explaining the song spun-off from the chorus of “Oh No” and is about a sci-fi reading nerd whose forgotten how to interact with people. “I feel a kinship with this guy,” he said, explaining that the imaginary social-awkward dude could easily be him. Then, he launched into a sleepy, romantic, largely loop-free take of the song that was simply gorgeous.
Of his older stuff, Bird sampled liberally from previous albums Armchair Apocrypha and The Mysterious Production of Eggs, with crowd-favorites like “Fiery Crash,” and the jovial “Opposite Day.” In the encore, he reached back to 2003’s Weather Systems to perform “Don’t Be Scared,” a heartbreaker that features some of his very best songwriting.
Mariachi-like desert rockers Calexico — whose opening set was lively and impressive, and included personal fave “The Crystal Frontier” — joined Bird on stage for three songs. Given that Bird has a band of his own, the number of musicians on stage ballooned to nearly a dozen, each with their various instruments of choice. The highlight of the mini-set was easily the bouncy “Scythian Empire,” bolstered by the sheer power of Calexico’s trumpeters.
But, of course, it was Bird’s night. The whiz-kid made his intricately-layered brainiac rock look easy, when nothing could be further from the truth. He’s essentially a massively-talented musical wind-up toy. Was anyone else at Radio City last night? Or have you seen Bird elsewhere and came away similarly impressed? And how on earth is he able to whistle so melodically (and powerfully)?