Andrew Bird, Bobby Bare Jr.
Sunday, Jan. 14
A reverent and conspicuously non-diverse crowd packed the blue cube on 82nd Street known as the Music Mill to see Andrew Bird last Sunday. The sizeable and attentive audience was a good sign for fans of left-of-the-dial rock and roll and semi-popular experimental music. While Bird’s longevity and style don’t necessarily place him into a difficult listening category, he is the kind of artist who would often be overlooked by Indianapolis and, in turn, overlook Indianapolis in charting his tour.
Opening for Bird was Bobby Bare Jr., who played a road-worn style of down-and-out, singer-songwriter blues. Bare has a flannelled shirt, unkempt look going for him that suits his music well, as his songs are typically descriptive of the darker side of life. Though he played an acoustic guitar and was accompanied only by a keyboard player, the pop punch inherent in Bare’s songwriting easily cut through such a big audience.
Bird took the stage after Bare’s short set, looking like an aged Harry Potter, complete with the extra long scarf. His sidemen were notable Minneapolis-based musicians Martin Dosh (drums, keyboard), a soundscape crafter in his own right, and Jeremy Ylvisaker (Fog, Redstart) on guitar. Despite such talented cohorts, the center of attention for the audience and the band’s sound obviously rested on the instrumental prowess of Bird.
Bird began his set with an extended instrumental as segue into “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” from his last album, “Mysterious Production of Eggs.” This set up the kind of aural atmosphere that would be created all night. He built the sound almost single-handedly by using delay pedals and sampling bits of music he played on the guitar, the violin, a xylophone and even by whistling. Huge surges of sound were built this way, and some were quite beautiful and reminiscent of Ennio Morricone spaghetti western scores at their best. On the song “Why?” Bird dismissed his band to play solo, finger-picking his violin like a guitar and warping his voice into strange contortions à la “Starsailor”-era Tim Buckley.
The Indianapolis stop was the second on a short tour Bird is on to get the songs from his upcoming album, “Armchair Apocrypha” (due out on Fat Possum in March), road-ready. Thus, the set alternately reached back into Bird’s vast catalog, which the crowd responded well to, and unveiled new tunes that were received quietly but with no less rapture. What the new tunes revealed is Bird’s very affable and often interesting sound, but also his refusal to cross certain barriers away from base indie-rock into uncharted territory, which is something his talents could clearly lead him to.