Photographs by Neil Van.
Today’s music scene is full of indie rock/folk acts. It’s a genre that can feel oversaturated and basic at times. Full of artists that round out their lyrics and music with sounds that can be found in almost all popular indie music currently. Hand claps, foot stomps and gang vocals of catchy words that fans can belt out in unison. You’ve probably noticed this trend, and you’ve probably even mistaken some of these artists for others with a similar sound. However, Andrew Bird is an artist that stands out amongst the blanket term of “indie folk” music. The Illinois native brought raw talent and his unique sound (complete with whimsical whistling, violin plucking and witty lyrics) to music lovers in Toronto Wednesday night, at the Danforth Music Hall.
The night kicked off with the Brazilian psych-rock band Boogarins, who have been touring with Bird recently. They opened the night with two plump tracks that each spanned over eight minutes. Many of their songs were sung in Portuguese, but the styling of Dinho Almeida’s vocals were very familiar to English speaking music fans. Kevin Parker like vocals (with a hint of John Lennon and Garret Borns) served up with a healthy dose of guitar reverb and rhythmic drum fills, to complete the perfect recipe for a psych-rock song. The songs themselves were adventures, featuring slow builds with abrupt endings, tempo shifts and long jam breaks. After their second song they said hello to the crowd and received a warm welcome while letting them know this was their first time playing Toronto, with their first time in Canada being only two nights prior in Montreal. They played for about forty minutes, but only played about five songs, a testament to just how long a lot of their songs are. If you’re a fan of the psych rock genre definitely check Boogarins out, they have a very robust sound and hold up against some of the more popular names in the genre.
The lights dimmed and the crowd erupted as Andrew Bird graced the stage. He didn’t waste much time and opened the show with the violin driven instrumental track Journey in Satehidananda, a great song to get the crowd warmed up, whilst making sure everything is tuned for the next order of business. Bird got the show rolling with the lead single off the new album, Capsized. A captivating tune with a strong opening guitar riff, which is beefed up with synchronized strokes of his violin, and capped by two strong cymbal crashes, before a gentle and smooth guitar lick pulls you into the rest of the song. Are You Serious, the new album from Andrew was released April 1st, He’s moved more towards an indie rock sound with his latest album, while still featuring a heavy dose of the styling he’s become known for. The first tune was followed up by A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left, a throwback to his 2005 record The Mysterious Production of Eggs. The song was received warmly by the crowd, and even featured an actual nervous tic motion of the head to the left by Bird, which was delivered promptly after singing the chorus with a smile on his face. Despite how busy he can be on stage at times, he still manages to find time for some playful theatrics to compliment his lyrics.
Bird greeted the crowd “hello my friends, glad to see you again” which is always welcomed by fans. It creates a sense of intimacy between the artist and fans and generally leads to a more relaxed and enjoyable vibe for the rest of the show. After saying his hello, he began plucking the opening to Tenuousness from the 2009 album Noble Beast. He followed it up with the song Lusitania from the 2012 album Break It Yourself/Hands of Glory. The whistling was pitch perfect during this song and throughout the show. Bird is not short on talent, that’s for sure. Besides playing multiple instruments his whistling is extremely impressive. He’s able to produce perfect pitch and fluidity while performing live, he never sounded off or missed a whistle the entire night.
At this point of the evening Bird dove deep into the new album, starting with the title track Are You Serious. It has a seriously catchy chorus that will get stuck in your head almost instantly (I found myself singing it in my head over and over travelling home after the gig). He followed up with the song Truth Lies Low, where he frequently switched between the electric guitar and violin which lead to an interesting performance and a more interesting song. It almost feels like two songs in one, with some verses featuring guitar prominently and others, the violin. Bird followed up with another new track Puma, and joked after finishing the song “Are you serious? Are they gonna play the whole thing?” They nearly did this night. He followed his joke up with two more new songs Roma Fade and Left Hand Kisses. The latter is a duet performed with Fiona Apple on the album, but Andrew handled both sides of the story during his performance this night. He then threw it back to three older songs Three White Horses, Imitosis and Plasticites. Multiple times throughout the evening and especially during these songs, he was using loop tracks for his whistles or violin parts that were less prominent in the song. The layers in the music are so rich that this type of instrument is almost necessary to recreate the songs live. Andrew rounded out the main set with the final track on Are You Serious titled Bellevue, and finished it off with the magical song Pulaski at Night.
The encore started beautifully, much to the delight of the audience. Andrew stood in the center of the mic plucking the violin, flanked by his two guitar players and opened the encore with an absolutely jaw dropping cover of Neil Young’s Harvest. As the strumming started, the crowd instantly cheered and clapped along to the beat, ushering Andrew in to belt out the opening lines “Did I see you down in a young girl’s town…” He followed it up with an older song Give It Away, followed by one more of the new album The New St. Jude. Both fairly mellow songs, the mood of the encore was very laid back and soothing at this point, but he had one more burst of energy in him to close out the evening. They finished off with the song Fake Palindromes, an infectious song featuring tame verses with an underlying pace that slowly bubbles into a soaring, violin driven chorus. A fantastic, energetic song to balance the general relaxed mood of the encore, and end the night with a bang.
Are You Serious is available now, and it’s a great album from start to finish. I wouldn’t have minded if he did play the entire thing to be honest, and he nearly did, playing eight of the eleven tracks off the album. All eight sounded fantastic, along with all the older hits he dug deep into the catalogue for. Bird was an incredible live performer, he sounds great on recordings, but seeing him live is the best way to truly grasp just how talented and confident of an artist he really is. If you have the opportunity to catch him on this tour, do yourself a huge favour; get out and see this man perform.