A beautiful setting can make a concert feel extra special — and that was the case on Monday night (Dec. 14), when Andrew Bird played the first of four shows this week at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church. I’ve seen Bird play four times in the past year and a half, and each venue was pretty cool — the intimate, comfy room at the back of the Hideout, the sweeping skyline views of the Pritzker Pavilion, the opulence of the Civic Opera House. And now, the towering cathedral backdrop of Fourth Presbyterian.
Bird played all by himself, although as usual, he used looping pedals to build what sounded like an orchestra or at least a string quartet with his violin. As promised, Bird played a fair amount of instrumental music at this show. He said it was sort of like the sessions where he plays at his barn in rural Illinois. “I don’t have the crickets here tonight, but I’ll do my best,” he added. Bird played a few works in progress, introducing one piece by saying, “This isn’t a song. It’s just an idea.” Bird played a couple of songs from Useless Creatures, the companion EP to his most recent album, Noble Beast, “Carrion Suite” and “You Woke Me Up.”
Bird, who was limping because he twisted one of his legs in a concert the other night, sat down throughout the performance. He didn’t use any P.A.s, piping all of the music through his trademark horn-shaped speakers. Unfortunately, some of Bird’s equipment picked up bits of radio from the John Hancock Tower across the street, and a few snippets of WNUA’s New Age jazz broadcast surfaced at times during the concert, most noticeably in between songs. “Let’s just pretend it’s a transmission from another world,” Bird suggested.
The most extraordinary moments of this show were the very quiet ones — Bird making a little clicking noise with his music to build a rhythm track, or plucking at his violin strings. In addition to the instrumental performances, which demonstrated Bird’s chops as a classical musician as well his folkier and rock sides, Bird did sing. The songs included “Natural Disaster,” Self-Torture,” “Nomenclature,” “Scythian Empires” and the Handsome Family cover “Giant of Illinois.” Bird also played one really cool cover, the original Sesame Street song “Capital I.” Bird revealed that he wanted to record that tune for his “Weather Systems” album, but the people at Sesame Street wouldn’t give him permission, so he ended up writing his own song about the capital I.
For the encore, Bird turned off some of his equipment to play the songs “old-school” — and he did a lovely version of the Bob Dylan-Jacques Levy song “Oh, Sister,” making it sound almost like an Andrew Bird song, with one perfectly sung a cappella verse. For his very last song of the night, Bird played one of his older tunes, “Some of These Days.” Those fans who are lucky enough to have tickets for one of the other Bird concerts this week are in for a treat.