Concert Review: Andrew Bird w/ a Hawk and a Hacksaw; Civic Opera House; April 10, 2009

A Hawk and a Hacksaw

A Hawk and a Hacksaw

The opening band was A Hawk and a Hacksaw, a four piece group with accordion, violin, trumpet, and…tuba. Tuba! Also, eventually the violinist busted out a … trumpet violin? I’m sure the thing has a real name, but when I googled for “trumpet violin” I got this, so that’s all the further I cared to look. They had a very Eastern European type feel, reminding me a lot of groups like Beirut and DeVotchKa. Most of their set (about 30-45 minutes) was instrumental, with a few songs with vocals. Very appropriate as an opener for Andrew Bird; it reminded me a lot of his earlier albums, which were more obviously influenced by traditional Eastern European music. They were entertaining, particularly if you like that kind of music. The accordion player (who was formerly in Neutral Milk Hotel) was the leader of the group, though he didn’t talk much, which was okay because he was kind of awkward. Anyhow, their music had a very organic feel, the songs all sort of blended into each other. Also, there were tuba solos. You’ve got to respect any group that write music that includes tuba solos.

Andrew Bird
Of course, everyone was there for Mr. Bird himself. I don’t really think there are enough words to really describe the show he puts on. It’s amazing on a musical level as well as a technical one. Also, it was very neat to see him in an environment that was built and engineered to get the best sound carry possible. Even before he plugged the violin in and started singing, you could hear him tuning, you could hear the clicks of the pedals he uses for looping, you could hear the little sighs and intake of breath before he started. He probably could have done the whole show unplugged and you still would have heard him in the third balcony.  More after the jump…

Things I will never get tired of: Andrew Bird live. Phenomenal as always. My fifth row seats were just about perfection, except for the fact that the dude in front of me was, as usual, like 7 feet tall. Fortunately I had an aisle seat so I just spent most of the show leaning out into the aisle.

He came out in bright red pants, plaid jacket, and scarf, and after the first song when he paused to take off his shoes (he always plays barefoot), the audience cheered. I believe his socks were stripey. This man has an epically awesome collection of fun socks. He started, solo as usual, with a bit of Dark Matter, then went right into Why?, which will always make me happy and also make me have to try really hard not to throw myself at the stage or something.  It was damn amazing and sexy and perfect, end of story.

While he did a lot of material off of the new album, he threw in plenty of older things, including Headsoak, which Nora O’Connor popped in for (she’s sung on pretty much all of his records and is sort of a Chicago music staple; she also sang on Don’t Be Scared).  Other songs included Fitz and the Dizzy Spells, Anonanimal, Opposite Day, Measuring Cups, Natural Disaster (which he introduced by telling the story behind the song, which involved him catching pleurisy and thinking how appropriate it was that he wound up with a Victorian-era lung disease), Tables and Chairs, The Happy Birthday Song, and of course, Dr. Stringz and Fake Palindromes.

Dr. Stringz is a song he did for a childrens’ show where he sings about being able to magically fix any stringed instrument — which was hilariously ironic because the previous night, he broke his violin during Fake Palindromes.  It just sort of slipped out of his hands and the neck broke off from the body.  He said it was one of those moments you can really only look at and thing “wow, the worst really has happened”.  (As a musician who’s had her own instrument malfunctions in the middle of performances, I can certainly identify with that).

Seeing performers like Andrew Bird really just makes me want to be a better musician. It’s concerts like this one that I leave and find myself longing to be performer. One review I read said that it’s obvious that Andrew Bird is probably one of those painfully shy, introverted people who feels most at home performing, and that’s about it, and there’s really something there that I (and I suspect, a lot of his fans) can identify with. The passion this guy has for music is ridiculous. Music really is a living, breathing thing for him, and songs are always being created and edited and reworked. You’ll never hear a song be performed the same way twice. It’s so impressive, and I don’t know how you can walk away from a show like this without being in awe (unless your name is Jim DeRogatis and you use your music column as a way to show off your epic grudge against Andrew Bird, who apparently killed your puppy and stole your girlfriend all in the same day).

At the end of the concert, you can’t help but feel like you’ve just witnessed something magical and one of a kind, and in a way, you have.

Check out my photos on Flickr.
Listen to Headsoak and Skin Is, My; audio from both ripped from the videos I took on my camera which I’m still waiting to finish uploading on Youtube.
Check out Andrew Bird and A Hawk and a Hacksaw online.