From Pebbles to Bricks
Andrew Bird remains one of indie music’s great mad professors. But on Tuesday night at the Teragram Ballroom, a show that fitfully benefited the Grammy Museum’s education initiatives, the ever-disheveled Bird appeared more focused as he announced that he would present the eleven tracks of his new album Are You Serious in album order, front-to-back.
If the faithful fans in the audience arrived craving a typically mesmerizing Andrew Bird solo show full of plucked violin loops, they may have been disappointed to see a full band emerge after Bird’s introduction. It is doubtful, however, that such disappointment would remain. His loud and proud new backing band, including Malibu’s own mad professor and producer Blake Mills on guitar, packed serious punch seldom found at his regular solo gigs across town at Largo.
While the band’s entrance could have prompted the initial ‘I’m-not-so-sure-yet’ skepticism when one isn’t ready for imminent change, soon the new tracks were decorated with the familiarly artful aviary whistles and xylophone fills that comprise Bird’s trademark cacophony. The second track, “Roma Fade,” concluded with Bird’s entranced vocals that conjured Mr. Thom Yorke’s own howling outro in “Nude.”
“Chemical Switches,” was executed beautifully by Bird and Mills alone. Perhaps the richest sounding tune of the night, its lyrics referenced pebbles turning into bricks; imagery that aptly defines how Andrew Bird’s songs are constructed in the live setting. “Left Handed Kisses” which followed is a duet that will include Fiona Apple on record, but whose two parts were sung dutifully by Bird on this night. The song moved effortlessly from pop flourishes to a violin solo. It seemed to conclude, until the night’s most rock n roll moment arrived via stage lights illuminating the house in a sudden burst, before finishing in a near-cowboy stomp.
“The New Saint Jude” was simply joyous, as it tapped in to the island vibe that occasionally surfaces in Bird’s live sets. The track, inspired by “an out-of-body experience at Costco,” ends with repeating words of relief: he’s “feeling so much better.”
While the eleven new tracks were bookended by more familiar tunes of recent years, these older songs seemed relegated to quietly exist in the shadow of the vibrant new tracks. Even Bird’s more well-known full band number “Pulaski at Night” from 2013, felt comparatively anemic when played alongside the new ones.
The first encore song was the quite playful theme song from Bird’s children’s TV show, Professor Socks. Apart from a couple of hoedown moments, it could’ve passed for a Sgt. Peppers B-side. The final song, “Three White Horses,” ended the night as it began; with a violin digitally looping under blood red stage lights.
Are You Serious isn’t available until April 1, but don’t be fooled. The songs and Bird’s new band are ready.
Truth Lies Low
Left Handed Kisses
Are You Serious
The New Saint Jude
Valleys of the Young
Pulaski at Night
Professor Socks Theme Song
Three White Horses