Andrew Bird, Fourth Presbyterian Church; December 9, 2013

Hey, internet. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  I’ve become a bit more of an occasional blogger than anything else, but there’s one very special time of year where I still have thoughts and feelings about music that I need to impart to you, and that’s during what I’ve previously dubbed Birdmas, that delightfully cozy yet brutally cold time of year when Andrew Bird comes to town for the Gezellegheid shows.

The true highlight of these annual shows is that Bird isn’t trying to sell us anything, so he’s free to go a little off-book in what he serves up to us.  Granted, he’s always been fairly unorthodox when touring in support of a new album — he engages in monstrous, lengthy tours, sure, but strikes an excellent balance between showcasing the new material and mining his back catalog — but the Gezellegheid shows are something else.   Although Bird recently released a mostly-instrumental EP, I Want to See Pulaski at Night, these annual shows are a time for him to experiment, and they’re usually a good indicator of where his sound is going to go in the future.  We’ve seen songs grow and change and mature over the years — Break It Yourself‘s “Eyeoneye” mutated over several years of being an instrumental tune called “Oh Baltimore”; “Pulaski at Night” debuted at last year’s Gezellegheid shows — and have gotten very early previews of works that haven’t even completely taken form yet.

This year, with Bird in between major albums and perhaps at a point in his life where he can sit back and be a little retrospective, he’s revisiting older material, and when Bird revisits something, you never quite know what form it’s going to wind up in at the end.  “Darkbreads” is the latest permutation of “Dark Matter” and its predecessor “Sweetbreads”.  “Dear Old Greenland” and “Waiting to Talk”, both Bowl of Fire tunes from 2001’s The Swimming Hour, have both been revised into country-inflected romps, further solidifying the notion that when Bird doesn’t know what direction to go in with his music, he defaults back to Americana.  He might be an indie superstar, and he might have classical training, but his real roots are in, well, roots music.  While I’m always excited to see what Bird comes up with next — he teased a possible Handsome Family covers album, although whether that’s true or just an off-the-cuff remark remains to be seen — I treasure these moments where he strips back the covers and gets back to basics.

As an aside, a pedantic trivia note from yours truly.  Bird played frequent fan favorite “Why?” at the beginning of the show, as he often does (this time complete with mid-song complete-lyric-meltdown), and mentioned that he didn’t think he’d played it before at a Gezellegheid show.  That’s not quite true; he did “Why?” during the 2010 run of shows here in Chicago.  Sorry, Bird.

We’ve got three more nights of Birdmas, so stay tuned for more thoughts from yours truly.

Set One

  1. Hover (instrumental)
  2. Ethiobirds (instrumental)
  3. Hole in the Ocean Floor
  4. Why?
  5. Lit from Underneath (instrumental)
  6. Plasticities
  7. Darkbreads (w/ Tift Merritt)
  8. Three White Horses (w/ TM)
  9. Pulaski at Night (w/ TM)

Set Two (all w/ TM)

  1. First Song
  2. Dyin Beds
  3. Dear Old Greenland
  4. Waiting to Talk
  5. Cathedral (Handsome Family cover)
  6. Give it Away
  7. Headsoak
  8. Orpheo Looks Back
  9. Danse Caribe
  10. If I Needed You (Townes Van Zandt cover)

Encore

  1. When the World’s on Fire (Carter Family cover, possibly?; w/ TM)
  2. Weather Systems