Andrew Bird, Fourth Presbyterian Church; December 11, 2013

People occasionally ask me how I can sit through four concerts from the same artist four nights in a row, or more generally, how there is any artist, anywhere, in any genre, who it’s possible to love so much that I would want to see more than a handful of times, let alone 30+.  Even though Bird has been keeping fairly strictly to his setlist this year, and overall has been keeping the show the same from night to night, there is still always something magical about each night.  He is a performer who thrives on spontaneity and the thrill of the unknown, and that always manages to shine through, even when the setlist doesn’t vary much.

Bird has a bit more flexibility when he’s flying solo (ugh sorry bird reference), like on night two, but with folk singer-songwriter Tift Merritt back on deck with vocals and guitar, his choices have strayed little from the printed setlists (with much thanks to Mel for snagging setlists all three nights so we could compare).  She brings an interesting charm and character to his work, especially given that so many of his songs are heading back to a more stripped-down, rootsy feel.   It’s fascinating to watch Bird and Merritt learn to play together, both in a technical aspect as well as with their very different personalities.

The people Bird surrounds himself with musically all tend to come from jazz or experimental backgrounds, and are accustomed to the way Bird plays, because it’s how they all play, too.  There’s a bit in the film Andrew Bird: Fever Year where Mike Lewis talks about how his jazz background helped immensely in playing bass for Bird, who oftentimes will change things up on the fly, mid-song, and everyone else just has to keep up.  Merritt is still learning Bird’s music and comes from a completely different musical tradition, so she watches him like a hawk (ugh sorry another bird reference) the entire time while they still work on meshing their two different styles together.

And while occasionally, perhaps Jeremy Ylvisaker will pipe up with a witty comment during a full-band show, Bird is usually left to his own devices and his own stilted brand of storytelling.   Merritt has a playful, often downright sassy stage presence, and sometimes Bird doesn’t quite know what to do with it.   Very rarely does he share a stage with someone who does the whole ‘witty stage banter’ thing, and it’s an interesting thing to see him, at times, at a complete loss for words.   I’m interested to see what happens if they keep partnering together musically — I think she challenges him in many different ways, and if his music is going to keep going towards this country vibe, I hope he continues to collaborate with individuals steeped in those traditions.

Tonight is night four of Birdmas in Chicago, so we’ve got one more of these coming your way.  To date, I’ve still got all of my toes and fingers.  Thanks, hand warmers.

Set One

  1. Ethio
  2. Hole in the Ocean Floor
  3. Why?
  4. Action / Adventure
  5. Lit from Underneath
  6. Plasticities
  7. Darkbreads (w/ Tift Merritt)
  8. Too Close > Headsoak (w/ TM)
  9. Pulaski at Night (w/ TM)

Set Two (all w/ TM)

  1. First Song
  2. Dyin Bed
  3. Waiting to Talk
  4. Dear Old Greenland
  5. Something Biblical
  6. Cathedrals
  7. Give It Away
  8. Orpheo
  9. Danse Caribe
  10. If I Needed You

Encore

  1. When the Worlds On Fire (w/ TM)
  2. Weather Systems