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Andrew Bird live


Mister Bird doesn't simply raise the bar in his current release. He dismantles the high bar contraption, drags the foam padding out of the arena to a mysterious pastoral setting, digs a new pit, and sets up a far more idyllic event (leaving would-be competitors, one can only assume, in a rented van in a traffic jam, somewhere).

And, we come to understand, this is what he does every night. Beyond that rare animal called an original pop composer, Andrew is also a looper extraordinaire, who literally constructs his pieces for his audience (a feat of musical prestidigitation) on the fly. For the uninitiated, picture this: the artist is playing into a recording or "looping" device that will allow him to build up a little sandwich of sounds in a flash, which he will then sing, speak, and whistle over.

In a captivating live recording of Bird archived at Chicago Public Radio's website [click here, then scroll down to Andrew's segment of the program], the artist as violinist laid down a plucked or pizzicato pass, then used an octave pedal (to produce lower frequencies) for a cello or bass type part. Then he wove in a violin line for a theme, quickly pulled around an electric guitar that was strapped on his back, for a track that began as a fingerpicked arpeggio and progressed into an insistent rhythmic pulse. Now all these things are playing at once, you see, in beautifully arranged layers. Bird then starts to play the glockenspiel [see below] and to sing some of the strangest and wonder-ful lyrics one's ever heard, and he starts to whistle, flute-like. And we're only a minute or two into the process, if you can believe that.

Looping this way takes real presence and precision, and also allows for a literal rewriting of a song on any given night, something this character is hardly beyond. But his formidable live prowess does not upstage the magic of the songs. Consider the opening lyrics of a tune with the catchy title "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left":

over prescribed
under the mister
we had survived to
turn on the history channel
and ask our esteemed panel
why we are alive
and here's how they replied
you're what happens when two substances collide
and by all accounts you really should've died

Right. Thank you, Mister Bird. This is only the smallest taste of the ride that listeners have in store for them, which is why we encourage you to pick up this incredible record. The wild cartoon illustrations accompanying the songs [by Jay Ryan--see some of his posters here] are themselves worth the price of admission. Exceedingly underivative, uncommonly entertaining, and that most precious of things--inspiring.
• Frank Goodman
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