Concert Review: Andrew Bird, Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA, 3/17/12

“I shouldn’t be operating heavy machinery,” Andrew Bird said at one point during Saturday night’s show, when a song got off to far too brisk of a tempo.  If you haven’t guessed by now — it seems to be a common theme for every one of Bird’s extended tours, these days — Mr. Bird is ill once more, and arranged the set list to accommodate the pretty heavy duty cold medications he’s on. Unlike other artists who perform under the weather, though, you would hardly know it with Andrew Bird — his voice sounded slightly rougher than usual, but that might not be noticeable to someone who isn’t in the double digits when counting Bird shws.  With the caliber of show he puts on while feeling less than 100%, I can only wonder to think what it would be like to see him in top form.

Taking the stage to a packed (but still comfortable — southern hospitality combined with the generally pleasant nature of Bird fans meant there was very little pushing or obnoxious behavior) Tabernacle, Bird was met by a very loudly appreciative crowd.  It’s interesting for me to see him outside of Chicago (or the upper Midwest in general) — we have the opportunity to see him relatively frequently, compared with other cities where he may not visit unless he’s touring for an album.  The reaction seems a bit more heartfelt in places where fans haven’t necessarily had the opportunities to see him in concert since since 2009 or so.

Although on tour for his new album, Break It Yourself, Bird didn’t fail to mine his back catalog for material for Saturday night’s show. The new songs fit in pretty seamlessly alongside older ones — although there were a few thematic pairs that I was hoping for but didn’t get (in my setlist, I would have paired “Armchairs” and “Lazy Projector”, for the “time’s a crooked bow” reference).  Also, at this point, the new songs feel like old friends to me, so I didn’t have any of those particularly jarring moments where I find my attention waning at the introduction of new music.  Fortunately, the audience seemed to have already made close friends with the new material, singing along just as enthusiastically (and — again, politeness rules here — quietly) as they did with old favorites.

As always, Bird and company (Jeremy Ylvisaker, guitar; Alan Hampton, bass; Martin Dosh, percussion extravaganza) put on a stellar, energetic live show.  One of the reasons why I don’t have a problem seeing Bird many, many times a year is that the caliber of the live show is such that it never quite gets old.  Even if he sings roughly the same set list each time I see him, I’ll still find myself a little spellbound.  Dosh always adds a very forward moving force to songs and Ylvisaker makes some fascinating, spacy noises with his guitar.  Hampton is new to the tour this year — if I remember correctly, the Hideout Block Party was actually his first time playing with Bird and company — and plays on electric and standup bass.  The latter comes in handy for the traditional, old-timey encore that Bird usually closes his shows with.

I had been worried for a little while that “Fake Palindromes” might be getting retired as a show closer.  There wasn’t an obvious replacement on the new album  but I’ve seen him close plenty of shows with more mellow, downtempo numbers, and while “Fake Palindromes” might be a perfect encapsulation of all that is good and right about Bird’s music, that doesn’t mean that he won’t get sick of playing it.  But fear not; Atlanta got the double whammy of “Tables and Chairs” and “Fake Palindromes” to close out the night, making me one incredibly happy camper.  There aren’t many things that put a smile on my face more than Bird’s performance of “Fake Palindromes”.  On Saturday night, he had a smirk on his face as he ran through the song, and, ill or not, it was clear that he was having fun up there.

The encore, performed as per usual with the band gathering around an old-timey microphone, is a chance for Bird to get back to basics.  He might not perform Irish fiddle music anymore (early in the show, he shared the story about his time spent playing at Renaissance festivals), but what he does during the encores is even better.  He strips the show down to its bare minimum as he puts his own unique spin on the classic gospel/bluegrass tune “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations”. These days, not many artists could pull off lyrics such as “When the fire comes down from Heaven / And the blood shall fill the sea / I’ll be carried home by Jesus / There forever with him be” in a way that feels authentic rather than ironic, but Bird has always managed to do it.  The encore closed out with a cover of the Handsome Family’s “Don’t Be Scared”, a song which never fails to give me chills.

Also, for anyone curious, comedian Eugene Mirman opened for this show, and will be along for the next several stops of the tour.  I’ll admit that I was a little unsure of how this would go over.  I’m familiar with Mirman’s comedy and generally enjoy it, but didn’t know how a packed room of people not there to see a stand-up comedian would react.  Fortunately, he kept the attention of most of the crowd, and I can recommend that if you enjoy snarky, liberal humor, that you should make it a point to get there early enough to see Mirman’s set.  (If you do not enjoy unabashedly liberal politics in your comedy, I would advise you to take your time arriving at the venue.)

See my photos from the show here.

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Setlist
Instrumental
Nyatiti
Danse Caribe
Armchairs
Desperation Breeds
Measuring Cups
Give It Away
Eyeoneye
Effigy
Lazy Projector
Near Death Experience Experience
Skin, Is My
Lusitania
Plasticities
Fake Palindromes

Encore
Trials, Troubles, Tribulations
Goin’ Home
Don’t Be Scared