Andrew Bird in Church

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.

Photos of Andrew Bird.

Andrew Bird redux

Little did I know that a New York Times Magazine reporter was at the same Andrew Bird concert I attended last month at the Hideout… Catching up the other day on some of my magazine reading, I realized that the magazine’s Jonathan Mahler covered the show as part of his nice profile of Bird in the Jan. 2 issue. Here’s my original blog post about the concert, and here are my photos from the concert.

Bird’s new record, Noble Beast, comes out Jan. 20, but you can stream the whole thing now on the NPR web site at (NPR is also streaming one of the other records I’m eagerly anticipating, M. Ward’s Hold Time.)

Andrew Bird at the Hideout

It wasn’t long ago that Andrew Bird played at little clubs like the Hideout, but lately he’s been getting popular enough to draw big crowds at places like Millennium Park and to book a concert tour at opera houses. So it was something of a rare opportunity to see him playing last night (Dec. 15) back inside the comfy confines of his hometown Hideout.

This show and one on the previous night were announced quietly just a week ago, a sort of holiday surprise from the Hideout. As Bird explained from the stage, these last-minute shows happened when he discovered he needed to shoot a video for the song “Fitz and Dizzy” from his forthcoming CD. Bird and his band, along with Mucca Pazza, spent much of the day filming in and around the Hideout, and then the video crew filmed two performances of the tune during last night’s concert, with the Mucca Pazza marching-bands folks playing amidst the crowd.

The show included every song from the new album, with Bird apologizing a few times for the fact that the band is still learning how to play the songs. There were a few glitches when Bird’s looping pedals did not work as planned as always with Bird concerts, such imperfections only draw your attention to all the craft that goes into constructing this music. The new songs sounded nice, not too drastic a departure from Bird’s previous two records if my ears weren’t deceiving me, but it’ll take a while to absorb them fully. Bird sprinkled a few oldies into the set, including “Imitosis” and the encore “Tables and Chairs.” And although it isn’t on the set list I photographed, he also threw in “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left.”

Dosh (a.k.a. Martin Dosh) performed a brilliantly creative opening set of his own sequenced, looping music, in addition to playing drums and keyboards for Bird.

Photos of Andrew Bird and Dosh.