Live Review: Andrew Bird at the Music Box, May 13, 2016

Andrew Bird
Photo credit: Dani Cantó

Since 2003, Andrew Bird has been churning out album after album of sophisticated, American-influenced indie rock. If you’re familiar with his work at all, you know that this is a gross generalization and doesn’t come close to describing what Bird really does. But, as with most musicians who bend genres, his sound is not the easiest thing to slap a label on.

A virtuoso violinist, a world-class whistler, and an overall wizard with any instrument that has strings attached, Mr. Bird is above all else a songwriter. He’s somehow managed to make 11 albums, all packed with songs that are at once innovative and unpredictable while still delivering straightforward melodies that stick in your head with a welcome warmth for days. His music is romantic and bookish, produced with such an unmistakable style that it’s at times hard to tell one album from another.

Some might say that’s a weakness in Bird’s 12-year discography. But, if you listen with the right kind of ears, you can hear his muses shining brightly through on each piece of work he releases. And with his last three albums, his muses have been calling to him from deeper and deeper into America’s past.

Bird is currently taking his string-centric, good ol’ fashioned American music around the world with a full band. His first US stop was at San Diego’s very own Music Box last Friday night. Three guitarists (including Bird, who rotated between guitar and violin) stood in the center of the stage with a drummer slightly behind them all and off to the right. This formation made it was apparent from the get-go that the music that night was going to be more about the interplay of strings (guitar, bass, banjo, fiddle, mandolin) with Bird’s lovely voice and less about rocking the hell out of the Music Box.

That said, the drummer added a nice fullness to the sound, and without him in the mix, the already sedate audience might have been completely still the whole time. Coming from Europe where the crowds are presumably a little livelier (they have to be, right?), Andrew must have sensed the lull in energy amongst the audience and felt somewhat responsible. At one point a few songs in, he mentioned that he and the band had just gotten off of a very long flight that afternoon and had some jet lag. He apologized for not having as much energy as he might have normally.

No excuses were needed, though. Like true professionals, they played through their set with vigor and enthusiasm. Those of us who came to get down definitely got down, but per usual the energy of the crowd was disappointing.

The set relied mostly on songs from Bird’s newest and possibly most personal release thus far, Are You Serious, but also had a healthy dose of earlier work sprinkled throughout. Highlights of the evening included an extended version of “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” (where for a few hopeful moments it felt like the audience was about to really get into it) and an encore with just the three guitarists gathered around one microphone. It was a nice and sweet way to end a night of music from one of the most consistent musicians working today.

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