Sunday, March 25, 2012

Andrew Bird / Eugene Mirman - Live 2012.03.22

Artist: Andrew Bird
Venue: The Pageant
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: March, 22 2012
Opening Act: Eugene Mirman

Setlist:
01. Hole in the Ocean Floor
02. Nyatiti
03. Danse Caribe
04. Desperation Breeds...
05. Polynation
06. Give It Away
07. The Naming of Things
08. Lazy Projector
09. Bein' Green [The Muppets cover]
10. Eyeoneye
11. Near Death Experience Experience
12. Effigy
13. Lusitania
14. Orpheo Looks Back
15. Plasticities
16. Tables and Chairs

Encore:
17. So Much Wine [The Handsome Family cover]
18. I'm Goin' Home [Charley Patton cover]
19. Fake Palindromes

Review:
When I first heard that the opener was a stand-up comedian, I was concerned. Knowing that a lot of stand-up doesn't do much for me, or outright offends me, I wasn't feeling too great about the prospect. But I figured it was worth giving a shot, so arrived early enough to catch Eugene Mirman's performance and a comfortable seat. I was surprised; he actually was fairly funny, but I was disappointed to find that much of his humor relied on ableism. He walked the line of overt offensiveness, and it's debatable if he strayed too far on the wrong side, but at least I could appreciate his political humor.

Andrew Bird came onto the stage alone to perform the longest track off his new album, "Hole in the Ocean Floor". His trademark looping was abundantly clear here, as without it the song would have been all but impossible. As it was, he was able to build up a huge network of parts that wove in and out of each other. Since it was just him, it was a rather transparent process: it was quite easy to watch as Bird added and subtracted parts as he went along.

For the rest of the main set, Bird was joined by guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, bassist Mike Lewis, and his usual drummer/multi-instrumentalist partner, Martin Dosh. Bird mostly stuck to his violin, but played guitar parts on many songs as well, and occasionally threw in glockenspiel bits when he felt like it. And of course, nearly everything he did was looped back. The last time I saw him perform, he appeared to also sample the guitarist's parts, but this time he seemed to just operate on his own instruments and voice. However, on some songs, it appeared that Dosh was manipulating some of Bird's parts, so I can only imagine that the wiring involved here is highly complicated. Dosh also performed some keyboard parts and threw down some percussion samples while ostensibly holding the beat with his drumset.

Ylvisaker was usually found to be doing something interesting with a slide or with some array of interesting effects, but he got off to a rough start when some element of his equipment appeared to malfunction. During "Desperation Breeds..." he was unable to perform for most of the song, and a stage hand rushed on stage to try to help. Bird didn't seem to mind too much; at one point he glanced back, noticed that Ylvisaker was out of action, and appeared to play what was presumably the guitarist's part on his glockenspiel. One quickly gets the impression that much of Bird's performance is improvised or at least only loosely scripted. After finishing "Desperation", Bird again looked back to see that Ylvisaker needed more time, and broke into what seemed to be an unplanned rendition of the brief instrumental "Polynation".

The setlist largely consisted of material from Bird's new album, Break It Yourself, which he said he really liked to perform, along with a couple favorite songs from each of his past few albums. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) many of these older selections were captured on the live Fake Conversations EP that he released a couple months ago as a giveaway for concert ticket buyers. As a result, there were few surprises to be found in the setlist, but that's not to say there were none. The biggest was probably the cover of "Bein' Green", which Bird claimed wasn't on the setlist but somehow just made him feel better. Apparently he was feeling "under the weather", which is strangely appropriate: a recent documentary following Bird's previous year-long tour, Fever Year, focused on the fact that Bird was battling some form of a cold for almost the entirety of the tour.

Bird's encore saw him come back to stage with just Ylvisaker and Lewis. The three crowded around a single retro-looking microphone and announced that they were going to play like in the old days. With no amplifiers, just acoustic instruments and voices, the three performed two covers and then retreated back to their normal posts. Dosh returned to his set as well, and the band played a manic, extended version of "Fake Palindromes". I had expected Bird to come out and play some more songs solo (as he had on his last tour) but this did not occur.

My biggest complaint of the night was that the encore seemed a bit dull. The idea of grouping around the single mic was interesting, but the covers weren't so special, and I would have preferred some more jems from Bird's own extensive back-catalog. The opener was okay but I probably would have preferred a hand-picked musical performer more in line with Bird's sound. (But I suppose Mirman was indeed better than the last tour's opening act, the Heartless Bastards.)

Scores:
Eugene Mirman: C+
Andrew Bird: B+

2 comments:

JDP said...

I think I agree with pretty much everything you've said here (though I might give Mirman the benefit of the doubt; I understood a lot of his humor to be high irony paired with tongue-in-cheek development, but like you said -- maybe he toed the line).

Everything pre-encore was awesome. It's worth mentioning, I think, that there were only three repeated songs (from what I recall) from when we saw him on his last major tour just three years ago. How cool is that? I mean, seriously, how often do you see a band perform at a three-year interval and observe almost no overlap in the set list?

I also think that his new material translated very well live. The new album is a subtler affair than usual. Fewer bells and whistles and, overall, less showmanship. I was worried about this translating into a boring performance, but I don't think that was the case at all.

The encore, alas, was nothing impressive.

But watching this dude build his loops in the live setting (especially when he's on stage by himself) has to be one of the more fascinating experiences in live music today. Bird turns our linear understanding of songwriting on its head.

Patrick said...

@JDP,

I wholeheartedly agree with the live translation of the new album and with the nonlinear songwriting ingenuity. I was extremely impressed with how well the new stuff came together on stage, which only makes sense if Bird is to be believed when he claims that most of the album was recorded live with the same band. But even seeing him build up a song solo is exhilerating. So exhilerating that I wish he'd done it a few more times on the stage, which I think is what you also thought.

Also, thanks for the setlist help!