Andrew Bird at the Riveria

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As he played Friday at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre, Andrew Bird looked a little less lonely than he used to. A few years ago, the Chicago singer-songwriter played concerts all by himself, functioning as a one-man orchestra. It was always impressive, but you couldn’t help wishing that Bird had a few other musicians to help him rock a little bit more.

In the midst of a tour to support his excellent new album, “Armchair Apocrypha,” Bird came back home Friday for a sold-out concert at the biggest Chicago venue he has ever played — backed this time by drummer/keyboarist Martin Dosh and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker. And at times, they did rock, but Bird still sounded far removed from a conventional rock or pop artist. A gifted writer of beguiling melodies and complex, pun-filled lyrics, Bird has many musical talents: violinist, guitarist, glockenspiel player, crooner and whistler. In concert, all of those talents are on display in a sort of show-and-tell performance that constructs the songs right in front of the audience’s eyes and ears. Using an effects pedal that loops segments of music, Bird plays one part after another — a few plucks on the violin, a few strums the guitar — and layers them higher and higher.

Having two musicians onstage with him meant that Bird did not have to create every song from scratch on Friday, but the concert still had the feeling of a chemistry experiment in a musical laboratory. These weren’t note-for-note reproductions of Bird’s studio recordings. Instead, they exposed all of the little building blocks that go into each song, eventually reaching crescendos of almost symphonic beauty. Bird was not just a cerebral experimenter at the Riviera concert, however. He also displayed a fair amount of passion, especially when he would let loose on one of his spiky guitar solos, whipping his head back and forth.

In the music’s most serene moments, Bird’s voice gracefully swooped and his pitch-perfect whistling hovered above the lovely arrangements that Bird and his collaborators had created. Following the lively opening set by Canada’s Apostle of Hustle, Bird played most of the songs from his new album and a few from his previous record, “The Mysterious Production of Eggs.” As he looked out at the Riviera’s packed auditorium, filled mostly with fans in their late teens or early 20s, Bird sounded sincere as he remarked, “I don’t know what to say. I’m a bit overwhelmed.”

See my photos of Andrew Bird.


See my photos of Apostle of Hustle.

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