Sound Choices

Alex Schaaf

I have written many things about Andrew Bird over the years, releasing glowing reviews of both his live act and his recorded output, making it clear that I am a fan. I had already seen him in concert twice before last weekend, and I own – yes, own – more of his records than anyone else.
So, as I was adding more candles to the Andrew Bird shrine in my room the other day, I started to worry that this form of worship simply makes it harder for me to write a legitimate review of the man. Since I’m fairly certain I will fall in love with anything he releases, what’s the point of giving my official “opinion” of it to any reader I may have, when they already know what I’ll say?
But after going to the much-anticipated two-night stand of Andrew Bird last weekend at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, I think I figured out a reason. Simply put, I have no choice. The man is not perfect, I have realized, and not everything he releases is gold – if pressed, I may admit to not liking certain songs on “Noble Beast” – but he’s one of the truly unique and intriguing artists out there right now, and it’d be a crime to not try and share this knowledge with as many people as possible.
So enough with all that, let’s get to the show. The two-night stand was special for several reasons. Bird would be playing the first night with a full band and the second night by himself as a solo performance. The first night would feature Dosh as opening act, while the second night would give us St. Vincent in the first slot. On top of all this, the shows were being filmed for an official DVD release of the live show.
With so many things in the offing, the first night had a sort of electricity in the air, as cameras rolled and Bird joked with the audience – “Just act natural, everybody.” Bird and his band ripped through a longer-than-usual set list, which included several songs from his latest release, “Noble Beast,” along with some old mainstays like “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” and “Fake Palindromes.” For the encore, the group huddled around one microphone in the front of the stage and performed the rare “Some of These Days” before plugging back in to finish with “Don’t Be Scared.”
The second night started off with St. Vincent, who I was almost as excited to see as the headlining act. Annie Clark tore through several songs from her newest release, “Actor,” with her backing band, wowing the Pabst audience with her fuzzed-out guitar licks and angelic vocals. Laying the groundwork for the soon-to-be epic night, she retreated into the background as Bird took the stage all by his lonesome.
Bird’s solo set featured many songs that were not played the previous night, and it was peppered with new and rare songs, such as the early version of “Dark Matter” called “Sweetbreads,” a song from his instrumental release “Useless Creatures” that now has lyrics, and “Lusitania,” a new song that he had played the previous night.
For “Lusitania,” Bird called out St. Vincent’s Annie Clark to come and play along with him, leading to an elegant take on the new tune. After this charming display of two talented artists working together, Bird announced they would play one of Clark’s songs next, and she launched into “Marry Me” as Bird played along on the violin. An instant show highlight, the audience was treated to a rare collaboration on this much-adored song from St. Vincent’s first album.
All in all, this was one of the most memorable concerts I’ve witnessed, with the excitement of new songs and new collaborations added to the fact that all of this would go down in history as a live film. I will readily admit that Andrew Bird is not perfect, but he’s closer than most.