Andrew Bird whistles way into concertgoers’ hearts

Photo courtesy of Katie Grinstead

With more than 15 years of experience under his wing, Andrew Bird is considered a wise old sage to independent music fans of all ages.

On Wednesday, Bird brought his musical wizardry to the Mesa Arts Center to promote his most recent album, “Break It Yourself.” After playing at the first weekend of Coachella, the Chicago-born musician began a three-show Southwest excursion before returning to Indio, Calif., to play in the second weekend of the festival.

For his current tour, Bird chose to include an array of free digital content, including his newest album and several live albums as part of the ticket price. His innovation in what constitutes a concert ticket is just one of many ways artists compete with illegally downloaded content.

The 22-year-old Laura Marling opened the evening with a stunning performance. The British singer displayed her critically acclaimed talents to an already crowded venue. The combination of the acoustics along with her strong vocals and guitar projected a sound much greater than what would be expected of a solo performer.

After Marling set the bar high, the aging hipsters filling most of the theater’s 1,600 seats anxiously awaited the night’s headliner. Beards, flannels and Gatsby hats dominated the venue’s landscape as the patrons traded opinions over what the tenured musician would pull from his repertoire.

Bird first took the stage individually, beginning with his trademark whistling along with some time spent on the xylophone. Once he began using his violin, he became a one-man orchestra through the elaborate use of loops and creativity in his trade. Immediately after the first song, he denied his intention of the classical music sound that he had just spontaneously created, despite the Mozart-like composition.

After his band joined him, Bird’s perfectionist method proved to be a theme throughout his set. He often balked during the introductions of songs in order to start over and fine-tune them. His humor during such trials showed his enthusiasm as a performer and storyteller. The crowd cheered him on, and he embraced the chatter, offering modest remarks and humorous apologies.

During his performance, he took time to tell a story about his visions of Kermit the Frog between the songs “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” and “Lazy Projector.” Bird created both songs for the recent motion picture version of the children’s characters. He mused about how he imagined a robed Kermit strolling around his mansion filled with depression during the latter song, which never made it into the film.

A large portion of the evening was spent unplugged, as Bird and his fellow musicians crowded around a microphone and displayed their versatility. They infused a sound of bluegrass and folk into songs such as “Give It Away.” It was remarkable to listen to the drastic differences between the band’s sounds when they ditched the electronics.

Unlike most musicians, Bird took the time to explain most of his songs. He laughed about happy songs and spoke solemnly about sad songs. As an audience member, one could sense the personal investment in each and every song Bird performed.

After Bird and gang completed their roughly two-hour set, the packed crowd gave the musicians a standing ovation as a reward for their truly enjoyable performance. By connecting to the audience through banter and exceptional music, Bird played the roles of musician, maestro and raconteur.

Reach the reporter at mbobman@asu.edu

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