There are a million ways to perform well, and comparing B.B. King to David Lee Roth won't edify anyone.
But Saturday night's show at the State Theater found its performers so stripped of all performative gimmickry, their virtuosic talents laid so nakedly bare, that the evening's emotional impact was almost oppressive in its weight and force.
Haley Bonar opened the show. Attendees were still being ushered to their seats during her first notes -- by her last, the place as packed with the raptly aware. To watch Bonar perform is haunting and humbling; rarely is it so keenly obvious that an artist is doing precisely what they were born to do. Sleepy but never sedate, Bonar's set was as simple and as perfect as a pocketwatch, and as intimate as a lullaby. She performed with a drummer and a bassist, but the sonic sum was many powers greater, and a mid-set climax was made of "Tiger Boy," a goosebumps-galore, perfectly crafted song of the foolish campaigns we launch to reclaim a lost love which Bonar appropriately performed alone with her guitar. The entire set found Bonar a demure, even mildly remote, presence, which made her music all the more elemental and quietly devastating.
Andrew Bird's act had a few more bells and whistles, and while he's a savant of multiple instruments, and his talents for composition are peerless, his lengthier, flashier show didn't quite pack the wallop that Bonar's did. The show began with Bird and his violin and a loop pedal, and within seconds he had composed a symphony in miniature, swelling with a looping section of strings. The effect was astonishing-- the loop pedal has been used in similar fashion, and is becoming an ever more en vogue tool of the solitary songsmith (see Lord of the Yum Yum for a particularly engaging example), but rarely is it used by a performer of Bird's proficiency. Close your eyes, and a philharmonic lies before you, pouring out of Bird's chest of toys.
Bird's appeal was slightly diminished by his band. Not because they were poor musicians, nor that they did not perform well, but rather that Bird's opening song, which found him engulfed by his own music in solitude on-stage, made the strong argument that, with just a violin and a loop medal, Bird essentially has no use for the trappings of convention. The set that unfolded was solid, with many high notes (the one two punch of "Dr. Strings" and "Fake Palindromes" at the tail end was an especially powerful build up). His stage presence was pleasantly eccentric, and the character he plays, quite endearingly, is one of absent minded genius.
It's not as if either artist is particulaly hurting for press or adulation. But to see Bonar and Bird together is to be reminded just how fortunate we are to be here, now -- unlike some of the more transient elements of our local music community, it's all but certain that Bonar and Bird will be scoring the soundtrack of our silver years just as exquisitely. This is music that endures.