I was expecting to get blown away when I went to see Andrew Bird at the 9:30 Club last Tuesday. I really was. You might think that those were some pretty high expectations, especially since I had never seen him live, but sometimes…you just feel it.
His music is complex and beautiful, with plucked violin and his expert whistling (yes, whistling) on top of often jaunty piano or guitar chords. I love his CDs, and often find that they are the perfect backdrop for everything from Metro rides to game nights.
Unfortunately, this did not translate into an amazing concert experience. Andrew Bird came out by himself first, dressed in his signature suit with skinny tie, and leapt right into his first song. He relies heavily on loop pedals, which involved him making certain noises (whistles, violin, and singing) and pressing the pedal so he could record on top of what he had already done. Most of the time, this is pretty cool and results in a lot more complex sound than one person can make, but frankly, I thought the first song was kind of a mess.
It did get better from there once the rest of his band joined him for the third song, but overall, I was disappointed in the live renditions of the songs I knew and loved. Often the pace changed–lovely slow songs were sped up, and upbeat happy songs seemed generic and dull. My favorite song off his new album, “Not a Robot, but a Ghost,” was almost unrecognizable in the last half, possibly due to the substitution of guitar for the piano line. My friend also maintains that it was the only time that he used pre-recorded sounds in the concert, though I’m not 100% sure about that.
The one exception was “Plasticities,” which I enjoyed every second of. That’s when the energy really amped up and it started to feel like I thought the whole concert would. I think the rest of the crowd really felt the shift, too, and the girl in front of me even screamed, “This is what we came here for!” It was what I came for, too–just a shame that it didn’t last the whole time.
Andrew Bird himself is kind of a nut, taking his shoes off halfway through the first song and starting a song only to get distracted by a crinkling noise on the balcony above him and having to stop to address it. He didn’t do much moving around or dancing onstage, though, and his bandmates might as well have been painted on a backdrop for all they added to the stage presence.
Oh, Andrew Bird. I will still always love his CDs, but sometimes you really shouldn’t mess with a good thing. You don’t have to take my word for it, though–NPR was actually at the 9:30 Club streaming the concert, and the whole thing is now available online.