Quirks and loopy spells: A timeline of Andrew Bird's mysterious productions
How he evolved into his newer, more distinguished sound
After scouring Andrew Bird’s musical catalog—from his first collaboration with gypsy-big-band weirdoes the Squirrel Nut Zippers on 1997’s Hot to the lushly complex songwriting of this year’s Noble Beast—The A.V. Club can’t find a logical reason why the Chicago crooner, whistler, guitarist, and master violinist should ever get lumped in with “indie-rock” acts. While we don’t even know what in the hell “indie” is supposed to encapsulate these days, we’re pretty sure that the overused term implies some form of rawness, which doesn’t apply to Bird’s adventurously catchy (and often quite technically challenging) body of work. A master of his own sideways songcraft, Bird’s never too immediate in his tunes: Gorgeous polyrhythmic violin melodies are looped and plucked against each other, as the tasteful, jazz-inspired drumming of Martin Dosh latches on underneath. Meanwhile, Bird’s brainy, if overwrought, lyrics swoon over the top with ease. In anticipation of his two-night stand at the Pabst Theater Friday and Saturday, The A.V. Club took a good look at how Bird’s music and live shows have evolved from jazzed-up sessions with his old backing band Bowl Of Fire to playing on the The Late Show With David Letterman earlier this year with a newer, more distinguished sound.
“Eugene” at the Caledonia Lounge (Athens, Ga.), 2001
The biggest change in Bird’s music since 1998’s Thrills is the tightened-up, poppier songwriting. “Eugene” put the music in a far darker place than it has been in several years. Haunting violin lines shimmer and shake over a minor-key progression, and Bird gives himself plenty of breathing room for improvisation.
The jump in the refinement of Bird’s songcraft between “Eugene” and “Sovay,” a fantastic waltz from 2005’s Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs, is gigantic. Watch as the crooner flips between instruments with ease, while his hushed vocals about firing people dance over the top.
“A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left” with Dosh
At this incredible performance at Bonnaroo 2006, it was clear that Bird had taken on a new level of popularity. Drummer Martin Dosh (who's also a killer solo artist in his own right) taps away at his drums tastefully, while Bird impressively reconstructs this whistle-centric tune live, using his loop pedal and a plethora of instruments.
“Fitz And Dizzyspells” on Letterman
This takes us to Bird's present phase, in which most songs are loaded with lush string arrangements, explorative key changes, and plenty of whistling. On Bird’s second appearance on Letterman, he rips through an airtight rendition of what may be the best song on Noble Beast. Particularly awesome, and indeed dizzying, are the counter-melodies in the intro.