Looking for a voice that rivals Jeff Buckley’s in expressive power and range? Covered. How about bewitching classical violin, gypsy fiddling, jazz/rock/surf guitar, and glockenspiel? Standard. Hankering for rich melodies and interesting wordplay wrought with impish glee? No problem. Then, if it’s not too much, can we get some haunting, otherworldly whistling in there? Done.
Andrew Bird has been on the scene for a little over a decade, making music, touring internationally, and recently blogging about songwriting for the New York Times. His latest CD, Armchair Apocrypha (2007, Fat Possum Records), is his tour de force, a culmination of the various styles and technologies he’s been exploring for the last 10 years. At present, he is assembling a follow-up for 2009, but the notoriously restless Bird is taking a break to limber up, hit the road, and do some work-in-progress dance steps. That rare artist, like Imogen Heap or Laurie Anderson, whose exuberant, folksy embrace of cutting-edge technology brings organic warmth to the whirring microprocessors, Bird sweetens the pot with jaw-dropping chops, unabashed pop sensibility, and a dash of rock-star charisma.
In addition to his seven studio albums—both solo and with his band, Bowl of Fire—Andrew Bird has released three much-lauded live CDs and carved an expanding niche for himself as a ya-gotta-see-him-live artist. A YouTube search reveals the aura of “a happening” surrounding an Andrew Bird performance; on the Bonnaroo stage, the Letterman set, and the smoky shadows of Paris club La Maroquinerie, it is not business as usual.
It is rare to watch a pop performer construct—and then expand and deconstruct—a song before your very eyes, but in the live context that is what Bird does, with an engaging confidence and offbeat, David Byrne-esque showmanship. Often beginning with a skeletal pizzicato violin sent through a sampler, Bird creates intertwining sonic loops on various instruments, upon which an engaging story is woven. It’s like being a fly on the wall of a crazy-haired, mad scientist’s lab; the loosely choreographed steps from sampler pedal to mallets to stringed instruments are punctuated by an easy rapport with a riveted and frequently high-spirited audience, and while the song as recorded remains recognizable, its execution at any given performance is strikingly unique. And it isn’t just about digital wizardry and ace musicianship—the tunes are hooky, achingly beautiful, and radio-friendly.
You can bet the work-in-progress material he recently blogged about will be assembled like an ephemeral Frankenstein’s monster at the Egg. (Just in time for Halloween!) If you’d like to be a part of that combustible, unpredictable creation, this is your chance. Blazing torches optional.
Andrew Bird will perform at the Egg in Albany on October 9 at 7:30pm; (518) 473-1845; www.theegg.org.