CONCERT REVIEW The Man Who Makes Gypsy-Rock Symphonies

Bird Rocks the Orpheum

Andrew Bird

Orpheum Theatre

Jan. 30, 2009

Having just returned from a Killers concert earlier in the week, I was both anticipative and tentative about the Andrew Bird concert at the Orpheum. On the day of the concert, I still hadn’t received my tickets in the mail, so I fearfully asked my roommate if I would be placed in the mosh pit. “Andrew Bird? A mosh pit? It’s in the freakin’ Orpheum for crying out loud!” Apparently “mosh pit” should never be in the same sentence as “Andrew Bird” — correction, not even in the same line of thought.

A glance at the venue, an opera house still swathed in decadent velvet and gold foiled walls, revealed that Andrew Bird is not “moshpit” music. If the opera house setting didn’t give it away, the swarms of jaded hipsters in knit berets and skinny jeans did. And no, not even slightly scruffy facial hair could conceal the fact that many were wearing Urban Outfitters from head to toe.

On top of that, the opening band, Lonely Dear, was Swedish. The vocalist was a slight but endearing figure with a clear bright voice. For most of the songs though, he only emitted trills and “la’s.” The soothing music was mostly instrumental, with occasional fragments of phrases and steady streams of vocal sound overlaid. Many of his words blurred together, but it seemed to fit their songs — the enunciation and lyrical comprehension was not needed.

When Bird stepped on stage, the crowd clamored. His easy manner of interacting with the audience made the venue more intimate and almost cozy. The gesture of taking off his shoes and playing in hot pink socks was a subtle show of both vulnerability and confidence on stage. Although he is often called “indie,” I think that the label fails to describe Bird fully. Nowadays, what exactly is indie? Not being signed with a major record label? Indie spans from retro rock to super-artsy; it’s difficult to pinpoint an artist’s style with such a broad label.

Bird’s music is probably “weird” by general standards. The man uses a custom-built spinning horn for crying out loud! When Bird plays, it’s not a man and his music. It’s a man, his ensemble, and his music. Bird was accompanied by a drummer and two guitarists, and they rotated instruments throughout the show. The usage of a wide variety of instruments was both impressive and also amusing — Bird often had his guitar slung on his back and a violin in the front. I have never seen a person sing and play violin at the same time. Bird, you’re the first.

Granted, Bird and his merrymakers committed a few mistakes, even completely stopping in the beginning of “Fake Palindromes.” A sheepish shrug and an attempt to recollect himself was more than enough for the audience. Most were devoted fans who exuded an almost familial adoration for him. They knew him from his early days, and Bird saluted them for their loyalty, starting with a few from his new record and finishing with some crowd-pleasing earlier works.

His personal charisma and impeccably smooth transitions between instruments garnered the popularity he enjoys from his fans. How many artists can integrate both clarinets and xylophones into the same piece to create something akin to gypsy opera? Bird manages to interweave seemingly random instruments into songs that are eerily beautiful and pleasing to the ear.

Bird’s bobbling head is his conductor, his voice an instrument of many colors, and his whistling the triangle bell that tops off the piece. Bird doesn’t create songs; he creates symphonies, made complete with nonsensical lyrics and unconventional instruments.