“I’m tired of playing all these instruments. It’s quite taxing,” lamented indie music superstar and whistling champion Andrew Bird toward the end of his July 16 show at the Grand Sierra Resort’s Grand Theatre in Reno, Nev. As a featured artist for Reno’s 2008 Artown festival, Bird kicked off his national tour performing fan favorites including “Fiery Crash”, “My Skin Is” and “Nervous Tick Motion of the Head to the Left” and five songs from his upcoming untitled album, two of which the had never played for an audience.
Decked out in striped green and pink socks, three piece tweed suit and tie and tousled hair Bird looked more like a mad scientist than a classically trained violinist turned indie darling, and to some extent he was. Flanked by his band, a sock monkey, glockenspiel and a modified gramophone, Bird looped Theremin-like whistles, staccato guitar riffs, and driving rhythms with his voice that impressed with its strength and range. Bird’s creations weave together music layers into a sonic tapestry that seems to move forward as if under its own power. In two hours Bird performed on the glockenspiel, violin, guitar and keyboard several times looping a track and switching instruments mid song.
Bird’s articulate phrasing and effective dynamic use, created an altogether unique sound that soared and fluttered as a leaf on the wind unpredictable and scattered but also purposed and graceful. The evening brought to mind sonic chaos of Radiohead and My Morning Jacket but also the harmonies of the Beatles and Beach Boys.
This was particularly evident on “First Impossible” a tune Bird himself described as, “tricky.” owing to a complex beat pattern that took advantage of the offbeat employing them with both skill and elegance, as Bird often does. The song conjured telegram rhythms coming to full and unexpected stops and starting again just as quickly creating a disorienting, fractured piece whose rhythms eventually broke down washed over the audience in waves ending miles away from where it stared.
Bird was full at ease with his audience whom he treated more as guests in his living room rather than paying audience members disarming them with humor and engaging them with colorful anecdotes. Several times during the evening Bird asked the audience for patience and leniency as the band ironed out some bumps and kinks in the set list. And though there were minute missteps in the newer tunes, Bird and company handled trademark complex rhythms and melodies, intricately and delicately designed with Swiss watch precision at dizzying and sometimes breakneck speeds.
Though there were only four people on stage they seemed backed by a virtual symphony of sound layering ethereal whistling skills, eccentric rhythms and to create an organic and distinctive sound and one of the most original and entertaining voices in music.