Andrew Bird gets cozy at St. Mark's Cathedral
When Andrew Bird announced that he was going to perform a "Gezelligheid" concert series at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, the obvious question was "What the hell is a "Gezelligheid?" It has nothing to do with the large phonograph sculptures that Bird uses for amplification or with violins, but is a Dutch concept that roughly equates to "coziness" (patrons of Mario Keller's restaurant and bar Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit will recognize the German equivalent of the word). With it's high gothic vaulted ceiling and gray stone, St. Mark's may not immediately fit the bill for "cozy," but the sold out crowd who braved the cold to stand in line for the third and final concert certainly appreciated the immediacy the reverential space offered.
Bird had bashed his heel on the first night of the concert series, which made it difficult for him to stand (he had played the second night of the engagement mostly seated), but he seemed determined to stay on his feet through most of the final night. He took up position front and center of the sanctuary and opened with "Sovay/Wedding March," a violin variation from his 2004 Sovay release, but he quickly moved to more madcap experiments. Surrounded by a number of samplers, sequencers, microphones, a guitar, and a xylophone, he lurched around to the various parts of his gear, heightening the sense of a man on a desperate quest to make things fit around him. With the lighting shooting up the back apse of the church shifting from blood reds to deep purples and cut by the stained glass windows, there was a committed seriousness to the performance that was intimate beyond social coziness.
One of the highlights of the solo opening was "Baltimore," which, in Bird's words, is "a new melody I've been working on. It has lyrics but they aren't ready yet, it just has a George Harrison Christmas special feel, so it's coincidentally seasonal." The melody was akin to "You Love Me" from How It Ends by DeVotchKa, a picaresque violin that Bird bowed, plucked, and whistled backed by a progression of looped hums, clicks, and wails and accentuated with the xylophone. Behind Bird (and next to a large, incongruous sock monkey) was a double-headed phonograph tube that spun past microphones to create an echoing amplification that was haunting and called to mind air-raid sirens, adding to the epic proportions of sound that the one man was making.
After the first third of the set, Bird invited Mike Lewis -- of his own backing band and Fat Kid Wednesdays -- up to join him, and the presence of another performer softened the effect and added a more communal feel to the performance. That did not mean that Bird was done with pulling out the special effects, however. For an upbeat version of "Barn Tapes" from this year's Useless Creatures, he recorded and looped the xylophone to sound like a faint bell carillon while playing with the tempo of the sampled guitars and violins to create an atmosphere that toyed with the listener, and had Lewis eying Bird to keep up with the changes.
From there on out, the set moved from Beatlesesque "Revolution 9" play to more straightforward songs with sung lyrics, and Bird sat for a number of them. But even as the dynamic changed from a personal evocation of Bird's experimentation, tunes like "Sifters" (with lyrics penned by a playwright friend of Bird) and the Cass McCombs cover "Meet Me Here At Dawn" had a lyricism that projected another form of intimacy to the audience, one that was sweet and honest. Bird continued to chat and by the end of the set, invited the audience to whistle and holler along like "a nomadic tribe" to Armchair Apocrypha's "Scythian Empire." Not many in the audience partook in the offer, though -- some special nights, you only need one person to sing for the tribe.
Set List via Kyle Mattson of morecowbell.net:
Sovay / Wedding March*
Bb Ab G*
Section 8 City
On Ho! (Mike Lewis on clarinet)*
Barn Tapes (Lewis on baritone saxophone)*
Sifters (Lewis on upright bass)
Meet Me Here At Dawn (Cass McCombs) (Lewis on upright bass)
Carrion Suite (Lewis on upright bass)*
You Woke Me Up (Lewis on upright bass)
Headsoak (Lewis on upright bass)
The Happy Birthday Song
Don't be Scared (Handsome Family) (Lewis on upright bass)
Scythian Empire (Lewis on baritone saxophone and backing vocals)
Oh Sister (Bob Dylan) (Lewis on upright bass and backing vocals)
Some of These Days (Lewis on upright bass and backing vocals)
* all instrumental
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