For the better part of 10 minutes Friday night, at his first of two NYC shows, Andrew Bird, he the all-world whistler/musical alchemist, said not a word. Before he was joined on stage by the rest of his band and before laying down his crooning baritone, Bird started his show at the Beacon Theatre flexing his multi-instrumental talent: whistling, tapping out a loop on the xylophone, plucking his violin, looping that. Adding a bit of guitar.
In a review a few years ago, I said Bird was like a mad scientist the way he flutters about the stage pulling all his instruments into gorgeously complex arrangements. And for sure, his aw-shucks demeanor and professorial (some would surely add dreamy) looks - all suits, sport coats, and perpetual five o'clock shadow - affirm this.
When I saw him at Tarrytown in October it was just he and collaborator/drummer Martin Dosh. Bird took his time and was more self-indulgent. And rightfully so.
On Friday, with a full band, Bird seemed more focused and inclined to stay on task as they attacked songs like "Eyeoneye" and "Danse Caribe" (both from his new full-length Break It Yourself) with purpose and ferocity.
When someone in the audience shouted "Measuring Cups!", Bird responded, "We can do that. We hadn't planned to..." And following the song he chipped in, "Happy to oblige."
But it was the old tyme part of the show where the band truly excelled. "What you hear is what we hear," Bird said following "Effigy", which, like songs "Give It Away," and the encore's cover of Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You", was performed around a solitary microphone. The songs also featured upright bass, adding to the folksy and, yeah, old tyme feel.
"Action/Adventure" from Weather Systems was also re-introduced. "Hadn't done this one in a long time," Bird admitted, "and never with a full band." All the while Bird waved his hand in the air, wagged his finger around trying to driving home his point like an animated lecturer.
A particularly intense version of "Plasticities" preceded the set closer "Tables and Chairs." "Fake Palindromes" wrapped up the show to a standing ovation.
Canadian singer-songwriter Patrick Watson was the first night opener and is cut from the same cloth as Andrew Bird. His songs build in much the way Bird's do, going from quiet intros to soaring highs, dropping to hushed tones before coming back in. The title track is a good example. But there were no weak spots in this set, "Quiet Crowd," "Into Giants," and particularly "Words In The Fire" all impressed. Watson also pulled his band out from behind their positions to perform around a solo microphone. Bird even paid tribute to Watson during his set saying, "You know you're doing well when you can have openers of that level."
Watson played a 2nd NYC show -an early one, at Manhattan Inn on Saturday, right before Tift Merritt opened for Andrew Bird at the second Beacon show (where Tift joined Andrew on stage to help perform "Lusitania" much like St. Vincent did at Coachella).
More pictures from Friday and the setlist from Saturday, below...
Andrew Bird at Beacon Theatre - May 5. 2012 setlist
Lusitania (with Tift Merritt)
Orpheo Looks Back
Give It Away
So Much Wine (The Handsome Family cover)
Near Death Experience Experience
Tables and Chairs
I'm Goin' Home (Charley Patton cover)
If I Needed You (Townes Van Zandt cover)