The musical creature known as Andrew Bird emerged onto the Sydney Opera House stage for the second time this weekend – his first since his 2010 debut – armed with nothing but a sharp suit and his trusty violin.
The stage was covered with instruments and microphones; a sign that either a band was about to emerge or Bird had surrounded himself with a menagerie of toys for personal consumption. Either option seemed valid and provided his adoring crowd equal levels of anticipation. No matter what was to come, however, he was starting the set solo – introducing himself with an instrumental number as exquisite as you’d expect; his signature looped violin and whistle reverberating off the Concert Hall’s iconic walls. Even without vocals, Bird already had us hooked and satisfied.
And that’s the wonderful thing about an Andrew Bird performance. Though they all have their own favourites, the crowd will be pleased no matter the setlist. It’s a luxury of having no less than 13 full length albums filled with incredible material. “Hole in the Ocean Floor” officially kicked off the set, before his three piece band came on behind him for another instrumental and then “Capsized”. The band, strengthened by the incredible drumming of Ted Poor, added a new layer to Bird’s material new and old. “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left”, which took Bird onto the electric guitar, was an early indicator of how the music has evolved live, across the seven years since his last visit to the venue.
Tracks from his latest Are You Serious pervaded the set, included the brilliant titular track, though there were plenty of favourites from his immense back catalogue. “Tenuousness”, “Why?” (about his oft referred theme of the downsides of being the passive partner), The Handsome Family’s “My Sisters Tiny Hands” and the Country tinged “Three White Horses” were among the highlights – as was “Left Handed Kisses”, which saw Bird take on both his and Fiona Apple’s vocal parts.
“Plasticities” and “Pulaski at Night” ended the main set, with the former proving a rare low point in the set – in spite of being one of the crowd favourites – and the latter ending things on a splendid note ahead of a three song encore. “Orpheo” and a cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest” featured the full band, with Bird joined by bassist Alan Hampton and guitarist Steve Elliot up on the same microphone for a pseudo acoustic number. Ending things as they begun, one of his earliest releases, “Weather Systems”, saw Bird solo in one of his most lyrically extravagant – though musically stripped back – tracks.
The night with Andrew Bird at the opera house was a wonderful one, filled with a stand out mix of music new and old, in which the more recent material – as well as covers like The Handsome Family inclusion – shined the brightest. There was a particular strength in the moments that saw Bird collaborate vocally with his backing band, and when he brought in some of the more Country moments of his catalogue. But at the end of the day, the show is as it’s always been – a showcase of a man, his violin, amazing music and an incredible whistle. And it’s an experience that will never get old, no matter which album is your favourite or when you got into him. Fingers crossed its not another 7 year drought until his next visit.
Andrew Bird performed on Saturday night, 15th April 2017, at the Sydney Opera House. He performs tonight in Melbourne.
Photo by John Goodridge from Bluesfest Byron Bay.