The free show by Andrew Bird Wednesday night (Sept. 3) at the Pritzker Pavilion was one of those moments for a local musician that feel truly triumphant. A guy you’ve seen playing in front of small crowds is now playing in front of thousands. I felt a similar sensation during earlier Andrew Bird concerts, as his venues have grown gradually bigger, from Metro to the Riviera, and now Millennium Park. Reportedly, some 13,000 people were present for his show on Wednesday.
And when Bird thanked everyone for turning out, he seemed almost taken aback or overcome with pride at playing on such a beautiful stage in front of such a huge gathering. He said he’d felt nervous about the concert as he introduced one of his songs. “Every time I would think about it, I would get this shudder of terror and sort of cast it off my head to the left,” he said. Of course, this was his way of introducing his song, “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left.” Somehow, it did not seem like he was completely joking, however.
Bird played a few songs solo, using his trademark looping-pedal techniques, but he had a backing band of three for most of the show (drummer Martin Dosh, guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker and bassist Mike Lewis). Bird had some problems with his violin, remarking that it had “exploded” backstage before the concert and was having trouble staying in tune because of the weather, and then, halfway through the show, the high E strung broke. Bird soldiered on, playing the violin with just three strings for the rest of the show. It still sounded remarkably beautiful, despite that woeful hanging string.
Although Bird’s music seems precisely composed and arranged when you hear it on CD, he allows a lot of room for variation during his concerts, and Wednesday was no exception, as he stretched out some sections of his songs. The set list included a lovely cover of the Handsome Family’s “Giant of Illinois” and a few songs from Bird’s forthcoming CD, which he said will be out in January. I can’t wait.
The free concert also featured a lively opening set of African-style dance music by the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International… and a delightfully cool breeze in the Pavilion. It was a cloudy evening, but the threatening rain clouds never delivered the fear deluge.
Following the Andrew Bird concert, I hopped on the Green Line and went over to that new club on the West Side, the Bottom Lounge, for a show by experimental rockers Xiu Xiu. I showed up in time for a scathing set of noisy feedback and male-nipple-twisting by the second band of the night, Prurient. And then Xiu Xiu’s singer Jamie Stewart laid bare his emotions with his warbling voice over a mix of harmonium, autoharp, melodica and guitar… Xiu Xiu is a peculiar band with music that’s hard to pin down. It’s only occasionally what I would call catchy, but the feelings always come through the weirdness crystal-clear.