The stage of Washington DC’s 9:30 Club was full of giant and colorful phonographs before anyone had taken the stage. The capacity crowd was standing around before a lone figure emerged, dressed like a character from Reservoir Dogs, carrying a fiddle. This was Andrew Bird.
He started off the show with some signature looping. He plucked chords and lines on his fiddle, sometimes three or four thick, and then he added to it with his voice. He sang a drum part here, whistled a melody there, added to it a falsetto vocal line, with harmony, and only then did he pick up his bow to play. Towards the end of the second offering, the dual-headed phonograph behind him started spinning, faster and faster, and suddenly the entire room had been transformed into a giant organ, pulsating and rocking with the many sounds of Andrew Bird.
At this point, his similarly attired band took the stage behind him, contributing guitar, bass and drums. Throughout the night, Bird played guitar, but also sang, whistled, whacked on his bells and played the violin in a multitude of ways, some familiar and some very unique. He is clearly skilled in the classics, but at times his fiddling gave him away as a lover of the bluegrass and Celtic traditions. However, he certainly does not limit himself to any genre or style. Bird is nothing if not unique. If anyone is ever to take the stage at Carnegie Hall simply to whistle for their audience, that person could very well be Andrew Bird. I have seen many people whistle, on the street, in clubs, even once or twice in an arena. But no one whistles like Andrew Bird. He uses vibrato and sustain. He accompanies his own melodies on the violin. He uses his whistling as a back dropped loop within songs. He is a talented man, but possibly none of his abilities are more unique than his ability to part his lips ever so barely and make them sing.
The majority of the ninety minute set was comprised of tracks off of his new album. At one point, he sheepishly apologized for only playing new songs. The crowd was there for him; however they did have a few requests to shout out at every available silent moment. The crowd desperately wanted to hear "Fiery Crash." Bird let us know that this song was not currently available; it was on the backburner for reconfiguration. He offered a compromise and played "Imitosis." The crowd accepted his offer graciously.
He closed out the set with his playful solo piece, "Dr. Stringz," wherein he tells the story of a man who can fix any stringed instrument. Simply plucking and pulling on his fiddle, he brilliantly reproduced the sounds of an array of acoustic instruments, including the mandolin, the banjo, the ukulele, the guitar and of course, the fiddle itself. He then plunged, with his bands help, directly into a rocking version of "Fake Palindromes."
When Bird reemerged for the encore, he was once again alone. He played a beautiful and haunting version of "Why?" Then the band joined him and they closed out the night with a very interesting take on the post-apocalyptic ballad "Tables and Chairs." The audience could not have sung louder when Bird informed us that “there will be snacks, there will.” The last words of the night were an instruction demanding “Don’t [you] worry about the atmosphere.” And with that he sent us back into the night.