Andrew Bird took the audience through his lifelong musical career in a two-hour show Saturday night in the Center for the Arts. He bowed, strummed and the plucked the strings, played it clean and distorted with pedals, and looped his own sound back to build on himself.
The genre-bending virtuoso pushed the instrument to its limit while also pushing the audience's emotional boundaries.
He played songs from his earliest albums, “Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs” and “Armchair Apocrypha,” to his most recent albums “Echolocations: River” and “Are You Serious,” which range in genre from baroque pop and indie rock, to folk and classical.
Bird began his show by crafting an orchestra alone.
With just one violin and videos of himself playing in a river under an LA bridge or in a canyon in Utah, Bird played off his own recorded improvisations, the acoustics and natural sounds of those environments, and layerings of his own live sound. Topographical maps of the places he filmed were lit up on the screen behind him, mirroring the soundscape Bird was creating.
As the layering continued, a double gramophone behind Bird began spinning, adding a new sound to the mix. The oscillation warped and distorted, bending the sound as the visualizations of the canyon and the river became more and more abstract.
Bird’s signature whistling pierced through the orchestral sound he had delicately crafted, adding a sonic sharpness that closed out both “Echolocation” pieces.
The show switched gears as Bird’s backing band took the stage and broke out into “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left.” Bird traded his violin and classical tone for a guitar and a more traditional rock sound.
For the rest of the night, Abe Rounds held it down on the drums, Tyler Chester sat at the keys and Alan Hampton played bass while aiding Bird on vocals; Hampton also made his “whistling debut” that night, according to Bird.
Bird and his flock at times switched to a folkier sound, with Hampton and Chester picking up acoustic guitars and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Bird in front of Rounds. They moved back and forth between the two setups throughout the night.
Bird debuted two new songs during the night, saying that some people get nervous playing new songs before officially releasing them, but he reveled in the thrill of performing new music for a crowd.
He stopped a few times throughout the night to restart a song. On one track, he forgot the opening lines. On another, Bird fell out of sync with his looper pedal and asked the band to try it again. The audience laughed along and applauded the flubs.
During “Capsized,” Bird shredded his violin harder than any other guitar solo while lamenting the post-breakup frame of mind. After his next track, “Lusitania,” Bird took a moment to check in on the audience.
“Is everybody OK?” Bird asked. The audience answered with applause, and he continued.
At times, Bird slipped into playing a character during songs, making impassioned gestures and emphatic facial expressions, letting the emotion of the song take a physical form.
In “Are You Serious,” he made motions with one hand while he had his violin in the other. He swayed his head and used strong, sharp bowing to keep the energy up throughout the set.
Before he sang “Pulaski at Night,” Bird talked about a friend from outside the country, who always wanted to see the Pulaski neighborhood at night. Bird joked that they thought it was a funny request, as “no one would want to see Pulaski at night.”
The band ended the regular set with the jaunty “Danse Carribe,” leaving the stage to a standing ovation and with the double gramophone still oscillating. Bird and company returned for a three-song set. Again, Bird stopped a song, this time giving up on it and deciding to play something else before leaving the stage for the last time that night, to another standing ovation.
Bird’s next stop on the tour is in Princeton, NJ at the McCarter Theater Monday night.
Hannah Mechanic contributed reporting.