All words: Travis M. Andrews
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Recently, I watched The Usual Suspects for the first time. Thank a severely misguided “friend” who, in retaliation for me letting slip what “Rosebud” meant in Citizen Kane, looked me in the eyes and told me (with full knowledge that I’d never seen U.S.) who Keyser Soze is. Because of this, I’d never watched the film.
That was seven years ago, and I finally caved. To me, Andrew Bird was sort of like the U.S. I felt like I know his tricks — whistling and violin playing — and I knew he was supposed to be great live, but I never really got into his 2007 Armchair Apocrypha. Well, until today.
Morning of, and I’m listening to his 2012 Break it Yourself on repeat in preparation. Not even sure why I took this assignment. I assure you it had nothing to do with hoping cute, pseudo-intellectual hipster girls would be drawn to my dark, cool journalistic stature. Mostly because that doesn’t exist. OK, so this album is pretty good. Time for the show, once I figure out which line is for press tickets and which is Will Call.
Highlight: Roadie doing a whistling sound-check. Awesome. This is probably going to be the highlight of the show for me.
Note one: Have there ever been so many small colored squares in one room? White people too. It’s like a lumberjack convention. That’s probably been used before. Like a million times. It’s like Eddie Bauer had a fire-sale.
A.B. takes the stage alone and plays a couple tunes, including “Sifters” off his new album on which he sings to some lady about what if they’d been born at different times. First impression: his voice is out of this world.
Cliff notes before diving in: If you know A.B., then this show sounds like what you know, almost exactly. Beautiful, ethereal and sometimes poppy. If you don’t know A.B., there’s no way in hell you’re still reading this. Unless you’re Mindy Andrews. Thanks, mama.
The band’s joined, and it includes a guitarist, drummer and what seems to be a multi-instrumentalist. A.B. switches between a guitar and a violin. Not sure anyone has rocked out quite so hard on a violin (sorry, Owen Pallet). The stage is interesting, but the photos are for that. If you’re listening on audio book, there’s a record player with a double-sided horn speaker out the 1920s. Also, what the hell are those twisty cone things above the stage?
Song 4: “Dense Carribe,” and the crowd is finally moving a little. The drummer’s playing pretty hard and wearing a baseball cap. It isn’t moving (neither is A.B.’s coiffure). How is that possible? I wonder this about baseball players too. I think A.B.’s wearing an ascot. It could be a bandana, but he seems like the kind of fellow who would wear an ascot, whatever that is exactly. I don’t write for a sartorial blog.
HE JUST SAID HE WROTE THAT SONG IN NEW ORLEANS. I’M FROM THERE.
Song 5: “Action Adventure,” an older tune, and people are going nuts. I also like that he admits they’re trying to play new songs but will throw some old ones in.
Song 6 (I think. I may have lost count.): “Desperation Breeds?” and you can’t help but be struck by how masterfully he switches between plucking the violin and playing it with the bow.
Next song is a plucky number, and it’s the first one I’m finding somewhat boring. This is just as well: I need to hit the head. Not sure if I’m allowed, while on review-duty, but nature calls. A guy next to me at the urinal mentions that he thinks the show is on NPR. Is this true? Why am I even reviewing it then? The crowd seems mostly reverently quiet, but I’m not sure if this is NPR-related. I certainly haven’t seen any signs or whatnot, but maybe I’m just out of the loop. This has me concerned.
Something awful has occurred: upon going to the bathroom, I’ve lost my spot, and the doors on the other side are randomly sealed. Why, 9:30 Club? Not sure if I can open them. This reeks of disaster! The crowd isn’t exactly a fight-through crowd. Also, there is now a large stand-up bass on stage, and A.B. is singing about measuring cups and measuring sticks. This must have occurred while I was in the restroom.
My father just texted me and apparently he’s aware of A.B. Hmm, he’s a musician so it’s not that surprising, but I’m now noticing just how many folks in here are a few generations older than I.
HE’S DOING A MUPPET SONG.
Song 9ish: “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” which he recorded for the Muppet movie that just came out. The stage is bathed in green, and he’s doing all the little Kermit asides. This is wonderful and actually really funny. A.B. is clearly having a blast up there, smiling and laughing throughout the song.
OK, totally lost count of song number now, but he’s doing “Give It Away” off the new record in an “old-timey” (his word, not mine) fashion. The stand-up bassist and the guitarist, who holds his guitar high a la a mariachi gee-tar, face each other, A.B. in the middle. It’s really lovely and oddly nostalgia-for-something-never-experienced inducing. Even the light is clean and low white lights like a player’s stage.
“It’s not the most original idea of the evening, but it’s hard to argue with,” A.B. says.
Bathroom is becoming problematic with the door opening and closing. So making a move across the room. Takes a bit, but make it to the bar on the opposite side. Several patrons seem displeased by this development. Angry eyes abound. Feel like I’m in the way, plus this “old-timey” thing is growing stale on just the second song. It’s lacking luster, and I miss the incredibly recent light show that made this production pop.
Back from whence I came, posted up by the bathroom, and A.B.’s two-song experiment has ended. A disco ball is spinning, and he’s playing a song I don’t recognize for the life of me, but one that a solitary fan seems beyond excited about. If this is on NPR, check at around 1:05 to hear.
A mother/daughter pair just walked down the hair. Pretty pumped for this: parents should show kids awesome music. They look happy. That’s good.
Oh, “Plasticities,” a song from Armchair! This sums up what he does so well: it’s got an intricately complex lead-in and verse structure, but then the chorus is down-strummed electric guitars and everyone yelling, together, so goddamn loud, his coiffure finally mussing up, everyone yelling, “We’ll fight! We’ll fight! We’ll fight for your music halls and dying cities!” Bias from being from New Orleans coming through here, but this moment is just so exciting. A real music moment. I’ll fight! I’ll fight for your music halls and dying cities! White lights flash.
Gotta be the last song: it’s so loud, but no, a few more. He’s now whistling over a loud electric guitar. His sound guy must have done something atrocious in a previous life.
I think somebody ordered a pizza. Does 9:30 Club serve pizza? If so, why? And if so, stop, please. There’s something totally disrupting about the smell of ‘za while watching A.B. (or anyone, I’d imagine).
Some more songs and a Townes Van Zandt song is in there, I think. There’s definitely some fiddling now. But that music moment from “Plasticities” really summed up what this show is about. It was the communal music moment, and everyone screamed together, right before it cut back to beautifully slow violin and a lattice of plucked notes and the lights cut off and everyone fell hushed, once again.
If you get a chance to see A.B., do it.
Oh, and to the three girls who danced the whole time: Thanks. Nice to see somebody having fun. Buck up, D.C. and stop being so D.C. After all, it’s music!
Some shots of opener Patrick Watson