For the second day of what I have tentatively dubbed Birdmas — stop judging me, I’m tired — we had a setlist that was mostly similar to the first night’s, with only a few deviations, including an acoustic, folk-tinged rendition of “MX Missiles” which had both Mel, our sometimes-blogger and full-time fellow Bird fan, and myself making some pretty impressive flappy hands in our seats. I’d just remarked earlier that day that I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one before in concert, and to both hear it and have it done as part of the “old-timey” set, where Bird and company unplug and cluster around a single mic, was mostly more than I could have ever asked for.
Bird continues to use these shows as playgrounds to flesh out ideas, both new and olds. There are certain instrumental pieces which he always works into his shows which stay the same, mostly, but there are always tweaks to his phrasings that help modify the pieces. I’m fascinated by what he’s doing with the somewhat reimagined “Naming of Things” — the original is one of my favorites, but watching him slow it down and rearrange the words to fit into the slightly more meditative version he’s been doing has been a neat look at a work in progress. “Carrion Suite” is another instrumental piece that he’s been playing for years, before it even showed up on Useless Creatures, and while it hasn’t altered much from its original form, I’m curious to see if it ever turns into something else. He continues to tease the audience with “Skin, Is My”, except he never quite gets to the vocal part — it’s an interesting choice of a song to play as an instrumental, as the opening riff is immediately recognizable to seasoned fans. “Trimmed and Burning”, a song which Bird has been playing in one form or another for years but never committed to an album, continues to morph, with Bird choosing different phrases to hold out and repeat each night. He keeps tinkering with it, lately adding a bit more ornamentation and inflection into his voice, complementing the trills and runs he picks out on the violin. I love what this song is doing, and the addition of Alan Hampton on upright bass has given it an extra flair.
What Bird calls the “old timey” section of the show has never shone quite as brightly as it does here at these concerts. With Bird, Hampton, and Nora O’Connor clustered around a single microphone, you can almost imagine that they’re singing in your living room. It’s shockingly intimate, with the mic picking up every stray breath, every beat against the body of a guitar, every tap against the floor. The highs and lows of the music are emphasized in this more natural setting, the crescendos grander, the hushes making you hold your breath so you don’t miss a beat. I’ve never connected more with the songs off of Hand of Glory than I have at these Gezellegheid shows, but now, I feel like I get them in a way I didn’t, just listening to the album in my own home. The songs — particularly “Something Biblical” — resonate with me on a different level after seeing Bird strip them all back down to basics.
And in the end, that’s what these shows are about. They give Bird a chance to experiment in front of a curious audience. Particularly with the unplugged songs, he’s getting the chance to show the public some of the music that he’s been playing for twenty years or more now, but which has before now always been sidelined for the bigger, the more experimental, the bombastic. There will always be a place in my heart for the theatrics of show-stoppers like “Fake Palindromes” (oh, will there ever), but the quiet moments mean just as much to me, maybe even more these days.
- Hole in the Ocean Floor
- Ethiobirds > Naming of Things lyrics
- Carrion Suite
- The Giant of Illinois (Handsome Family cover)
- Instrumental (Skin Is My)
- New Song (Untitled – “A Minor”)
- Trimmed and Burning
- MX Missiles
- Give It Away
- Three White Horses
- If I Needed You
- Something Biblical
- Railroad Bill
- New Song (Untitled – “Pulaski at Night”)
- Danse Caribe
- Oh Sister (Bob Dylan cover)
- Some Happy Day (Charley Patton cover)