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