Majestic Theatre, Dallas
Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016
Studies have shown a correlation between people’s names and their professions. For example, there's a preponderance of plumbers with the last name Plummer. It’s called nominative determinism. If those studies are true, it’s no wonder Andrew Bird’s name suits him so perfectly.
Bird sang, warbled and whistled to the audience at the Majestic Theatre for an hour and a half on Wednesday night. Like many bird species that assume sounds that aren’t native to their species, he switched off seamlessly between violin, several guitars and xylophone throughout the night to build his lush string-centric soundscapes.
He called out his siren song whether people showed up and appreciated or not. And it looked like Dallas under-appreciated his brilliance, if one took into account all the empty seats, since only three-quarters of the theater was full. Those who did show up were passionate fans, yelling out praise and encouraging words during moments of silence. Toward the end of the night he said he wanted to learn a Townes Van Zandt song when he got to Dallas but forgot, and someone shouted across the theater, “You can do it, Andrew.”
The venue was small and intimate enough that Bird heard the call and responded, “I can do the first verse,” and obliged, singing the top third of “For the Sake of the Song,” strumming his violin as an accompaniment. It’s a song he said he loves and was a “huge influence” for his new record, Are You Serious.
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Perhaps it wasn’t only the venue that lent an intimate feel. Bird himself broke down the barrier between performer and musician, entertaining the crowd with funny and earnest vignettes about where his songs came from. He said “The Naming of Things,” off his 2005 album Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs, came after a rather depressing walk he took in Chicago in February — a bleak time of year, he remarked. He walked past a garbage can that said, “In Remembrance Of,” and, he said, “I was like no, you didn't do a memorial on a garbage can. ... Anyway, so that stuck in my head.”
The intimate vibe was even mimicked in the stage set up. It was like sitting in on a studio session, complete with a floral rug beneath the band. The musicians (including the drummer) were in a row across the stage and the amps and equipment cases formed a close-knit semi circle behind them.
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The simple lighting was set up on top of the equipment cases and beamed rays onto the disco ball above the stage and into the audience. True to Bird's indie roots, it had a DIY feel. But the unpretentious set up was effective for what Bird is going for. His work speaks for itself, so there’s no need for bells and whistles — except of course, in the songs where he's whistling.
Despite the higher production value of Are You Serious, which Bird says he had produced as opposed to recording live like in his other albums, the music last night meshed together beautifully across albums.
He played highlights from the new album like “Are You Serious” and “Left Handed Kisses” (his duet with Fiona Apple), which he introduced by saying, “This next song is a duet that I’m going to do on my own,” which earned laughter from the audience. He said he asked Apple if she would join him in Dallas, and that she’s been very generous with her time, but she declined. Bird earnestly admitted, “It’s kind of fun to do on my own, and kind of maddening.”
Bird’s earnestness and humor characterized the night. In one of his most popular early songs, “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left,” Bird pantomimed having a nervous head tic (to the left), which drew more laughter from the crowd.
If there was ever any question about the powerhouse that Bird is, songs like “Three White Horses” put any doubts to rest. It made use of all of his talents, like his multi-instrumentation and the use of looping pedals to record and play back small snippets that he builds up into entire songs. It was a refreshing change to have the band members step back into the literal shadows, as the spotlight shone down on Bird in a dark theater, making music alone.