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Review: Andrew Bird at Old National Centre 

*****
click to enlarge Andrew Bird in the Murat Theatre Sunday - APRIL SCHMID

Andrew Bird, Here We Go Magic
Murat Theatre at Old National Centre
Sunday, September 30

"I'm just happy to be here," Andrew Bird told the audience at the Murat Theatre at Old National Centre Sunday night. It seemed to encapsulate his essence: a humble Chicagoan who records on his Western Illinois farm; a gifted multi-instrumentalist exploring the vast gamut of musical Americana.

The night began with Here We Go Magic, a Brooklyn band fronted by Luke Temple whom I briefly spoke with earlier in the day after the band's in-store performance at LUNA Music. Temple is a rugged, gracious man who explained that he tries to write "soulful, meaningful music" that is modern but with "old-fashioned melodic sensibilities." He told me he had been revisiting Captain Beefheart as well as listening to Tuareg music from the Saharan region of North Africa.

Here We Go Magic recently released their third album A Different Ship which was engineered by Radiohead's producer Nigel Godrich. It's a mixed bag of sorts -- straddling between airy folk songs and nervy pop tunes vaguely reminiscent of Devo and the Feelies. Temple described working with Godrich as "amazing" and that the band was tighter going into the sessions that produced A Different Ship. Temple also said that he doesn't listen to music when creating new material. "I try to be as detached as possible when I'm writing," Temple explained. It certainly shows.

click to enlarge Andrew Bird at the Murat Theatre - APRIL SCHMID

There's a simultaneous detachment and immediacy in Here We Go Magic's songs; a sort of obsession with obsession. "I've got a mild fascination for collectors/ Where'd you find all that time/ A place for everything in the house?" Temple sings on "Collector" from the band's 2010 release Pigeons. With song titles like "Hard to Be Close," "Make Up Your Mind," "I Believe in Action" and "How Do I Know?" Temple invites us to overanalyze the seemingly simple problems of common life.

All of this made Here We Go Magic a perfect opener for Andrew Bird -- an artist equally obsessed with the nuances of everyday life. They played a superb set beginning with "Hard to Be Close", ending with "How Do I Know?", and a medley culminating in "Collector" in between. They weaved a dense layer of sound that evoked both the comfort of rural nostalgia and the anxiety of urban life.

Then Andrew Bird arrived, playing music somewhere between Mogwai and Bill Monroe -- post-rock bluegrass, if you will. He's a world class performer and poetic lyricist -- capital T Talented -- who sings, whistles and plays the glockenspiel, guitar and violin with equal virtuosity. Among other feats of technical wonder, Bird looped his violin and occasionally sent it through a Janus double spinning horn speaker that gave his layered violin loops a whirring, otherworldly sound.

He opened with "Hole in the Ocean Floor" from his latest album Break It Yourself. It was a devastating opener; layers of violin whirred as he sang "I woke with a start/ Crying bullets, beating heart/ To hear all God's creatures/ Roaring again." And it set the tone for a near two-hour set of songs about everyday people, their lives and fractured personal relationship with the world and reality.

When Bird finally brought out the full band for crowd favorite "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left," the four paper spirals that looked like giant ram antlers hung above the stage reflected shadows and light onto a giant screen behind the band. It was an organic light spectacle -- like seeing the aurora borealis through a kaleidoscope.

Midway through the show, Bird and his band took up all acoustic instruments and played around what Bird called his "old-fashioned" microphone. He played a new song called "Three White Horses," covered Towne Van Zandt, played a traditional titled "Railroad Bill" and other bluegrass and country tunes. But rather than seeming like a detour from his spacey layered material, it revealed his musical soul. For most of the set Bird and his band were in full step with one other -- centered on a single groove, their instruments seeming to communicate with each other. But when he stripped everything down, the music lost none of its power as Bird sang songs about the recent drought and old American life. He then seamlessly transitioned back into the rest of his set with layered ambient drones.

This effortlessness of genre-bending and American roots revival is what makes Andrew Bird a national treasure. His traditional songs seem as alive as they were at the turn of the 20th century and his more modern experimental material speaks to us with the immediacy and intimacy of a stripped down old folk tune.

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