Andrew Bird at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, 12/16
Andrew Bird’s Gezelligheid
Knit caps and excited faces covered Michigan Avenue on Thursday evening for Andrew Bird’s second annual Gezelligheid event at the Fourth Presbyterian Church downtown. The 20-degree weather did little to deter fans from lining up on the street as early as an hour before the doors opened at 7.
Inside the church the usual reverent silence was absent, filled instead with discussions of ‘wild parsnips’ and violin looping. Although big for a church, the pews were packed quickly; indeed, this was Bird’s second sellout evening of a three-night set.
Though the lone musician on stage, Andrew Bird created his own band aided with his looping pedal. Beginning most songs with layers of picking on the violin, he would then add lush harmonies drawn from the bow, which somehow fit perfectly, ending many songs in a purposeful and slow retreat back to a simple bowed melody. Coupled with the sound his horn speakers made when they began to spin, all of this lent a dreamlike whirlwind effect to the music.
Bird began the evening walking on stage and starting a song within moments. After an elaborate display of classically trained excellence, he attempted to transition immediately to another song when his sound went out. He held up a finger as if to say, “hold on.” After looking down, Bird realized the moment was gone.
“Hey everybody,” he said to applause and laughter.
“I had this whole elaborate intro planned but-” trailing off, shrugging with a smile.
The stained glass window on the altar above him remained illuminated for the evening, reminding viewers of the pious setting while providing a surreal quality to the show itself. His striking string melodies floated through the old stone building and settled brilliantly into the crowd.
The Gezelligheid set of shows is a chance for Andrew Bird to work alone and play whatever he wants. This includes covers, classical tunes, a lot of older songs and new songs to try out. As he describes it, “this show is a chance to stretch out my instrument in this beautiful room.”
Yet he didn’t disappoint avid album listeners. His famous live song, simply titled “Why,” made an appearance early in the evening. “It [Why] helps me get out my nervous energy,” he remarked. While playing the dramatic opening riff on violin, Bird shakes his head with movements more reminiscent of a stubborn child than a rock star. During the long pause between opening riffs, Bird had a bit of trouble. “Find the backbeat,” he told himself in the microphone. “This should be interesting,” he remarked upon realizing his inability to follow his loop. The audience laughed. Despite his nerves, Andrew Bird delivered a stellar performance showcasing his mastery of the instrument even in the face of a mistake.
He then played a new song titled “Desperation Breeds.” “It has something to do with bees and accidental pollination,” Bird said with a laugh, which the audience reciprocated. “I’m not sure if I want to get into it,” he mumbled to himself with a smile. For this song, Bird fell into his pattern of staccato violin picking set to a 2/4 rhythm that has uniquely become his own. After adding a few xylophone-whistles and picking up a guitar, he was ready to sing. When the looping was finished the stage sounded like a mini-orchestra, though Bird had created it all himself and the audience witnessed the process from the beginning.
“Every time I do a new song for you, I learn something…about myself,” he said upon finishing. Whether it’s a song about why we remember some things and not others or how you cannot see your own eye but you can break your own heart, Andrew Bird certainly wrestles with original subject matter.
Bird, heartened by the crowd, even attempted playing his song “Tables and Chairs” without a band for the first time live. He began the song on violin and, while switching to guitar during a dramatic pause in the song, he grabbed for it but the strap got in the way, delaying the moment. Any other artist might have lost his audience but, whether it is his talent or his loveably awkward persona, Andrew Bird still had everyone silent in anticipation.
The set finished to thunderous applause and cheering, the loudest noise the church has likely ever seen. A standing ovation brought Bird out for a three song encore. He brought out his “old-timey mic” which connected solely to the horn speakers with no looping or amp backup. Bird played a fiddle now, truthfully, his violin emanating pure bluegrass, while stomping along and singing. This is Andrew Bird with no added effects, how he would have sounded singing on a Chicago street without aid from adept sound engineers or a supportive crowd.
Bird went even further and put down his violin playing his only violin-free song of the evening, “Effigy” from Armchair Apocrypha. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, at first he was almost like any other folk singer…until you hear the whistling and lyrics that would make a thesaurus envious.
And so the walls of the Fourth Presbyterian Church echoed with wild roars of approval from Bird’s adoring fans, a testament to their belief in the power of music and their adherence to the church of beautiful sounds.