Andrew Bird, Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, Oregon, U.S.A., April 9, 2005


Andrew Bird, for me, has gone from an entertaining curiosity after his first two albums with his Bowl of Fire band to an essential component of my daily music listening with his most recent two recordings. So I jumped at the chance to see him live at Portland, Oregon's hottest new venue, the Doug Fir Lounge.

I was quite curious to see how Andrew Bird's complex and layered recent recordings Weather Systems and The Mysterious Production of Eggs would translate to a live performance. I also wanted to see how he would be received by the hipper-than-thou scenesters at the Doug Fir. About half of the 300 or so capacity crowd seemed to be there for the music, and the other half to be seen -- at least during the two opening acts, the artsy folk of Jorane and the intense and intelligent (not to say cerebral) folk-rock of Laura Veirs and the Tortured Souls.

By the time Bird took the stage at about 10:45 the SRO dance floor was packed, and midway through the second song, "Sovay," it was quiet even in the adjacent bar.

Backed only by his longtime accompanist Kevin O'Donnell on drums (and possibly on programming), Bird put on an energetic, passionate and highly entertaining show of more than 90 minutes. With a black hollow-bodied electric guitar slung around his back, Bird started nearly every song with violin in hand, laying down a complex plucked and bowed accompaniment of loops in three, four or more parts -- sometimes including whistling or plinking on xylophone or both -- before taking up the guitar to strum and sing.

He focused on Eggs for most of the night, playing nearly every track off of that album, plus several from Weather Systems and tossing in at least one older number and one not yet recorded, tentatively titled "American Apocryphist." He proclaimed like a preacher in a tent revival on "Capital I" and rocked-out on a very up tempo version of "Banking on a Myth." On that latter number and several other times during the performance Bird occasionally seemed to be teetering on the verge of disaster, sometimes staggering melodramatically around the stage as he moved from guitar to violin to xylophone and back again, and punctuating his hyper-intelligent lyrics with howls, stutters and operatic whistling.

O'Donnell seemed to have an almost telepathic link with Bird and his manic antics, constantly propelling the rhythm forward with a truly impressive display of drumming, almost entirely involving brushes and whisks.

By the final song of the regular set, the spellbinding "Lull," my companion and I were flagging, so we left before the encore shortly after midnight, satiated with music and good microbrews, and not smothered by tobacco smoke, because this trendy venue is smoke-free. A superb night on all fronts.

 

[Gary Whitehouse]