Forecastle Festival, Day One

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I’m in Louisville, Kentucky again this weekend for my favorite summer festival, Forecastle. This year, I have the great pleasure of covering it for CHIRP Radio, so make your way over to their blog to check out some photos and read my take on day one. Stick around all weekend, as days two and three, plus a full photo gallery, are still coming up.

Andrew Bird; Lincoln Theater, Washington DC & Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC

Hideout, December 2012

Hideout, December 2012

So it seems like every year I do one of these – a semi-vacation to some other random city to see Andrew Bird. It’s a bit like a pilgrimage, if catching a couple of concerts and then spending a few days pretending that I live somewhere else can be counted as a pilgrimage.  By my count, Washington DC and Carrboro are the eighth and ninth cities I’ve been fortunate enough to see Bird in (other entries into the Bird Club: Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Louisville, Nashville, Atlanta).

It’s not a pilgrimage, but in some ways, maybe it is.

Monday was a heavy day for me – I spent a good long while at the Newseum, which despite the kitschy name is actually pretty intense. A gallery displaying all of the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for photography: war, death, destruction, terrorism, loss. A display on historic cases worked on by the FBI: same. Berlin Wall: same. 9/11: same. The struggle for civil rights: same.  You go in expecting a history of broadcasting, but you get a history of the United States instead, and it’s often not easy to watch.

I followed that up with a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian, which, while not quite as intense as the Newesum, still leaves plenty of room for serious reflection. How many times have you heard stories of Native American peoples in their own words? Not many, right? Think back to every museum exhibit on our First Peoples that you’ve seen, think about how artifacts are presented without context, think about how their artifacts were taken from them as surely as their lands and their heritage and their lives were. Think about all of that, and then go through this museum and tell me you don’t come out feeling significantly contemplative.

All that to say: it was a long, hard day for me, in a city a long way from home, far from the familiar.

But Andrew Bird is familiar. In a very real way, Bird – with his Chicago roots and his bittersweet songs about the city he’s left behind – is home for me.

And lately, Bird’s music is coming home, too.

Last year, both Mel and I remarked on the way that, aided and abetted by Tift Merritt at the Gezellegheid concerts, Bird’s music has been more and more inflected with a hearty dose of country twang.  For all the years he’s spent perfecting the art of being an indie-rock playing, looping-pedal stomping sensation, Bird’s roots lie in the traditional, and that’s abundantly clear during his “Hands of Glory” tour.  On the road in support of his new album, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of…, a collection of Handsome Family cover songs, Bird lets the country vibe take control, helped along by Merritt, and Eric Haywood on pedal steel. Alan Hampton is back, too, on upright bass, and the always delightful Kevin O’Donnell is back on drums, bringing a joyful, heavily jazz-influenced style back to Bird’s style.

Although this is the beginning of the tour, the songs are already tight and the band plays very well together. For perhaps the first time ever, though, I’ve seen two Bird shows in a row where he didn’t deviate from the set list. It could be a function of the new band, it could just be that these are the songs he’s worked up to have this specific sound, for this specific tour. Who knows. What they played worked, and worked well, though. The revised Handsome Family tunes (check out his version of “Far From Any Road”, which gained some measure of fame lately due to being the theme song of True Detective – Bird’s version sounds just close enough to the original to be familiar, but that’s about it) mesh seamlessly with his own revised tunes (see: the revival of “Greenland”, a far twangier “Danse Caribe” and “Give It Away” than I’ve ever heard before).

Country suits Bird, and it suits him well.  For the first time in a while, Bird looks like he’s having fun up there. I get it, music can be a grind – I sing in a band that plays shitty dive bars maybe a couple of times a month and I get tired of it, I can’t imagine doing it as often as someone like Bird does.  I get losing the joy of it for a lot of your set, until you really hone in on that handful of songs that keep you going. So it’s so pleasing to see Bird light and easy on his feet, walking the tightrope that is his live show.

Sunday and Monday’s shows at DC’s Lincoln Theater felt slightly tentative. He’s still settling into the tour, the venue was a little more formal than perhaps best suits the types of songs and stories he’s telling. But tonight at Cat’s Cradle, everything clicked into place. The setlist was slightly different tonight, particularly for the encore, but Bird’s infectious joy over playing music that is maybe the closest to his heart was on full display.

Bird comes back to roots music whenever he’s trying to figure out what direction to go in next, but I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t mind if he stayed with it just a little while longer.

Setlists

June 8/9, Lincoln Theater

Instrumental (solo)
Hole in the Ocean Floor (solo)
Plasticities (solo)
Trimmed and Burning
Give It Away
Tin Foiled (*)
Greenland
Far From Any Road (Be My Hand) (*)
Frogs Singing (*)
Near Death Experience Experience
Drunk By Noon (*)
Three White Horses
Pulaski At Night
Danse Caribe
Don’t Be Scared (*)
—-
Cathedral in the Dell (*)
My Sister’s Tiny Hands (*)
Orpheo Looks Back
Tables and Chairs

 June 10, Cat’s Cradle

Instrumental (solo)
Hole in the Ocean Floor (solo)
Plasticities (solo)
Trimmed and Burning
Give It Away
Tin Foiled (*)
Greenland
The Sad Milkman (*)
Frogs Singing (*)
Near Death Experience Experience
Three White Horses
Pulaski At Night
Danse Caribe
Don’t Be Scared (*)
—-
MX Missiles
Something Biblical
Drunk By Noon (*)
Tables and Chairs

* = The Handsome Family cover

Guest Post: Seven Albums That Came Out in 2013 That Mike Listened To and Enjoyed the Most

[ As per our annual tradition around here, my friend Mike has stopped by to share some of his favorite albums of 2013 with us.  Enjoy!  -S ]

This was a bizarre year for me. I had to buy a new car and as such could not go to Lollapalooza, and as such was deprived of listening to a bunch of up and coming bands. On the flip side of that, I started listening to a lot of drumstep via Spotify Radio and as such, I’ve introduced myself to all sorts of crazy music acts that way. This year’s list has some familiar faces, the return of an old friend, but more importantly, I have seen every one of these bands live at some point. Here are the:

Seven Albums That Came Out in 2013 That Mike Listened To and Enjoyed the Most

Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions
After a too long wait, the best thing to come out of Scotland since McEwan’s released a new album. Complete with disco guitar, moving basslines and sweet hooks. The first three tracks on this album are super duper amazing, the rest, the regular type of amazing.

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions was released August 27 by Domino.

 

Anamanaguchi – Endless Fantasy
Chip music has its time and place. Mostly in the background of NES games. But Anamanaguchi has somehow managed to pull off a really good album of upbeat poppy chiptunes. Plus, when I saw them live, they created a nerd moshpit. This album is super fun, especially Meow.

Endless Fantasy was released on May 14 by dream.hax.

 

Man or Astro-Man? – Defcon 5…4…3…2…1
WHAT YOU MEAN MAN OR ASTROMAN? GOT BACK TOGETHER WITH STAR CRUNCH AND WROTE A NEW ALBUM?????!!!! The masters of Surf Punk returned to the living with a rager of an album. Combining the band’s early sound with their later evolution. I could seriously listen to this all day.

Defcon 5…4…3…2…1 was released on June 18 by Chunklet.

 

The Postelles - …And It Shook Me
When I first saw the Postelles way back at the first Lolla I went to, I thought they were pretty good. A little That Thing You Do-esque, but good. Then after a few years they released this album. Its great poppy rock with a throwback sound.

And It Shook Me was released on April 30 by +1.

 

The Bloody Beetroots – HIDE
Well, it finally happened. There is a song that Paul McCartney appears on that I like. Also, The Furious is a pretty damn good song. Super kicking myself for not going to see them when they came to Pittsburgh this year.

HIDE was released on September 17 by Ultra.

 

Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go
Every once in a while you wanna slow it down with a good jam… and not like some super sleazy modern day R&B tracks… some good old Hall and Oates style white guy singing r&b jams. Mayer Hawthorne delivers, and yet Robin Thicke somehow still gets more buzz.

Where Does This Door Go was released on July 16 by Republic.

 

Dream Theater – Dream Theater
I’m always skeptical whenever DT puts out a new album because I typically fall for it right away, think it’s the best thing ever, and then get tired of it 3 months later. I listen to like 3 songs written after SFAM. If their last album was the first step to post-Portnoy awesomeness, this album cements it. Welcome back, Dream Theater. Welcome back.

Dream Theater was released on September 24 by Roadrunner.

Honorable Mentions-
The Bloody Seamen – Ahoy, Motherfuckers
Camo & Krooked – Zeitgeist
White Lies – BIG TV

And of course the Worst album of the year.
Millionaires – Tonight
I almsost gave this to Arcade Fire for Reflektor, as I just don’t get what all the hubub about them is about, but every so often I get the title track stuck in my head. So I’m giving this to Millionaires. Yeah, i get it that Millionaires isnt really a serious group and that they just make music that Ke$ha couldn’t sell, but c’mon. At least if you are making juvenile music, make it funny.

Andrew Bird, Fourth Presbyterian Church; December 11, 2013

People occasionally ask me how I can sit through four concerts from the same artist four nights in a row, or more generally, how there is any artist, anywhere, in any genre, who it’s possible to love so much that I would want to see more than a handful of times, let alone 30+.  Even though Bird has been keeping fairly strictly to his setlist this year, and overall has been keeping the show the same from night to night, there is still always something magical about each night.  He is a performer who thrives on spontaneity and the thrill of the unknown, and that always manages to shine through, even when the setlist doesn’t vary much.

Bird has a bit more flexibility when he’s flying solo (ugh sorry bird reference), like on night two, but with folk singer-songwriter Tift Merritt back on deck with vocals and guitar, his choices have strayed little from the printed setlists (with much thanks to Mel for snagging setlists all three nights so we could compare).  She brings an interesting charm and character to his work, especially given that so many of his songs are heading back to a more stripped-down, rootsy feel.   It’s fascinating to watch Bird and Merritt learn to play together, both in a technical aspect as well as with their very different personalities.

The people Bird surrounds himself with musically all tend to come from jazz or experimental backgrounds, and are accustomed to the way Bird plays, because it’s how they all play, too.  There’s a bit in the film Andrew Bird: Fever Year where Mike Lewis talks about how his jazz background helped immensely in playing bass for Bird, who oftentimes will change things up on the fly, mid-song, and everyone else just has to keep up.  Merritt is still learning Bird’s music and comes from a completely different musical tradition, so she watches him like a hawk (ugh sorry another bird reference) the entire time while they still work on meshing their two different styles together.

And while occasionally, perhaps Jeremy Ylvisaker will pipe up with a witty comment during a full-band show, Bird is usually left to his own devices and his own stilted brand of storytelling.   Merritt has a playful, often downright sassy stage presence, and sometimes Bird doesn’t quite know what to do with it.   Very rarely does he share a stage with someone who does the whole ‘witty stage banter’ thing, and it’s an interesting thing to see him, at times, at a complete loss for words.   I’m interested to see what happens if they keep partnering together musically — I think she challenges him in many different ways, and if his music is going to keep going towards this country vibe, I hope he continues to collaborate with individuals steeped in those traditions.

Tonight is night four of Birdmas in Chicago, so we’ve got one more of these coming your way.  To date, I’ve still got all of my toes and fingers.  Thanks, hand warmers.

Set One

  1. Ethio
  2. Hole in the Ocean Floor
  3. Why?
  4. Action / Adventure
  5. Lit from Underneath
  6. Plasticities
  7. Darkbreads (w/ Tift Merritt)
  8. Too Close > Headsoak (w/ TM)
  9. Pulaski at Night (w/ TM)

Set Two (all w/ TM)

  1. First Song
  2. Dyin Bed
  3. Waiting to Talk
  4. Dear Old Greenland
  5. Something Biblical
  6. Cathedrals
  7. Give It Away
  8. Orpheo
  9. Danse Caribe
  10. If I Needed You

Encore

  1. When the Worlds On Fire (w/ TM)
  2. Weather Systems

Andrew Bird – Gezelligheid 2013 – Historical Lagniappe

There is a thing that Andrew Bird does, and it is a thing that Andrew Bird has done for a long time, and that thing is covering songs that in their original form might sound strange to our ears.

While it’s the kind of thing I could (and have) rambled on about until the fun’s gone out of it, I think the thing we’d all prefer I do is give you a quick look at the old stuff that Bird’s used on the first three nights of this year’s gezelligheid shows.

(I am going back south of the Mason-Dixon line where I don’t have to wear five layers to stand in line on Michigan Avenue and where mucus doesn’t freeze in my nose. I’m a delicate flower.)

First up is something we’ve seen on Fingerlings 2 but that Bird revisited on Night 2: Charley Patton, “Some Happy Day.”

Next are the Staples Singers; Bird used “Too Close” as a lead-in to “Headsoak” two nights.

And last, finally, is a Carter Family song called “When The World’s On Fire,” played on Nights 1 and 3.

One last note: Bird’s also revisiting the song previously called “You Woke Me Up” — I’ve written about it before — and calling it “Dyin’ Bed,” which has a few sources. (One of them isn’t on YouTube; it’s from an album that Bird recorded very, very early in his career with Jimbo Mathus in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Amazon will let you hear a sample of it here. That’s Mathus on vocal.) As for older recordings, you can compare and contrast yourself: one is Blind Willie Johnson, the other is Bird’s main man Charley Patton.

Be well, Chicago. Other than the miserable cold, it’s been a delight being up here.

Andrew Bird, Fourth Presbyterian Church; December 10, 2013

I’ve got about an hour to tell you my thoughts on last night’s Gezellegheid shows before I get to go off and meet up with fellow erstwhile blogger Mel to go stand in line for a while.  (These write-ups were much easier to manage when I turned Birdmas into a staycation; maybe next year.)  Last night saw Bird play a setlist that was significantly the same as the first night, but as usual, he seems to be easing into the shows, loosening up and getting more comfortable as the week progresses.

When you see Bird perform live, you get the sense that he’s channeling something or someone.  It’s downright eerie the way his performance shifts and changes, especially as he switches in and out of genres at the drop of a hat.  Pure old Delta blues creeps in here; a touch of honky-tonk there; a hair-raising take on a gospel tune there.  His music is his own, yes, but he’s got a whole line of musical greats standing up behind him making up his own musical heritage.

It’s never more present than in shows like these, surrounded by the massive, cavernous space of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church.  Bird plays to an attentive audience in an historic, unique environment, and performer and audience feed off of each other in a continuous cycle.  And Bird’s communion with past and present, the here and the elsewhere, has definitely never been more apparent than in his stark, unadorned belting of a few lines of a Staple Singers tune: “Am I too close to turn around? Am I too close to heaven to turn around?”

Look, I have been to an absurd number of Andrew Bird shows over the years.  I have seen him in tiny, 150-person clubs and I have seen him at massive outdoor festivals and, at this point, just about everything in between.  (By my best recollection from last year’s calculations, this show was number 31.)  Very few times before have I had a jaw-dropping, hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-standing-up moment like I did with just those few bars of music.  His voice fills the room and calls you to attention with a question that he never quite finds the answer to.  We don’t know if he’s too close yet, but we do know that he was walking, could hardly stand; the swimming hour was at hand.

Last night, Andrew Bird was absolutely in sync with whatever it is that drives him.  He creates something special here at these shows, and this one was no exception.  With the freedom to let the music lead him, Bird digs deep into music traditions older than any of us and brings back something very special and otherworldly for us all to hear.  Fitting, then, that we dubbed the pre-show music to be of the “hipster Viking” variety — sometimes droning, sometimes soaring, always eerie and vaguely foreboding.   (On night #1, when Bird drew more heavily on Americana, aided by Tift Merritt on vocals and guitar, the pre-show music was from the American Anthology of Folk Music.)

Set One

  1. Hover
  2. Ethio
  3. Why?
  4. Action/Adventure
  5. Lit from Underneath
  6. Plasticities
  7. Darkbreads
  8. Three White Horses
  9. Pulaski at Night

Set Two

  1. First Song
  2. Waiting to Talk
  3. Some Happy Day
  4. Cathedrals
  5. Give It Away
  6. Orpheo
  7. Dyin Beds
  8. Frogs (Handsome Family cover)
  9. Too Close (Staple Singers cover)  > Headsoak
  10. Danse Caribe
  11. If I Needed You

Encore

  1. Weather Systems