Thursday, February 5, 2009

Review: Andrew Bird & Loney, Dear; Orpheum 1/30

No matter how many pairs of gigantic, fake glasses you own, you just can’t buy this breed of awkward, ironic genius. And yes, I said genius.

Last night at the Orpheum in Boston, supported by an impressive set of mammoth gramophones and the venue’s characteristically exceptional lighting design, Andrew Bird and opening darlings Loney, Dear demonstrated their shy brilliance with nearly three hours of—because this wasn’t simply music—experience.

Channeling more established contemporaries like The Weakerthans and Sigur Rós, the adorably Swedish Loney, Dear performed an earnest set that many audience members couldn’t have fully appreciated, due to their constant getting up and down. It was a real shame, because Loney frontman Emil Svanängen sings with the patience and charm of an elementary school music teacher, instructing the entire audience in the melodies of their songs; and the honesty and awkwardness of a teenaged boy with his guitar, standing in the hallways of his high school, playing a song he wrote for the girl he’d been in love with for five years. Loney’s song “Saturday Waits” was a crowd favorite, and definitely the most memorable of their songs. However, the unquestionable highlight of Loney, Dear’s set was Emil’s ending to one of the songs on their new album Dear John, in which all instrumental accompaniment fell away and he sang a simple repetition of the chorus two or three times in an unimpeded, raw croon.

Then...oh, heavens.

A tall, scrawny, slightly scruffy guy in a suit and skinny tie (reminiscent of George Harrison, à la Ed Sullivan Show) walks onstage, holding a violin and bow. Lifting the instrument to his shoulder, he plays a simple riff and taps a pedal on the sound board at his feet, which sends his riff into a loop, over which he adds more and more sound, as if building a Lincoln Log cabin made of beautiful music. Just as he finishes creating his own personal symphony, seemingly frustrated, the man kicks off his shoes to reveal a pair of bony, bare feet.

Now Andrew Bird was getting into his groove.

“Natural Disaster” opened the set, accompanied by a loop of the audience’s clapping and, of course, Bird’s notoriously masterful whistling. Throughout the hour and a half, the man’s demeanor presents a contradiction: his frenetic, near OCD head-shaking and foot-tapping gives him the look of a nervous-as-hell schoolboy giving an oral presentation, while the effortless caress of each violin string and sparks of a smile on his face make him seem nearly smug about it all.

The set, a staple to Andrew Bird’s live performance as original as his whistling techniques, consists of just those three gramophones, two of which are approximately the size of adult sea lions. The third, considerably smaller (perhaps a baby sea lion—but with two heads), is a custom-designed double-headed piece that spins, echoing the sounds of the band and filling the Orpheum with a unique noise effect (this reviewer is hard-put to describe it more articulately; go see it and hear it for yourself).

His band members; percussionist Martin Dosh, guitarist/bassist/organist Jeremy Ylvisaker (try pronouncing that one), and Mike Lewis; seemed to not even register that they were playing onstage in front of hundreds of people—maybe that was because Andrew was pulling about 90 percent of the instrumental weight? Playing “Tables and Chairs,” however, the boys proved that they were well qualified, because the clarinet and, though at first it seemed counter-intuitive, the saxophone additions to the song made it one of the best of the night. In fact, most of the songs of the night were significantly improved by the live performances; it was the difference that a live jazz set makes to its recording.

Finally, with “Fake Palindromes,” the boys polished off a healthy encore, and picking up his violin, his empty shoes, and the sock monkey that had been surreptitiously perched on the double gramophone, Andrew Bird walked away from a raw, beautiful whirlwind of a show.

Try doing that with a carefully assembled thrift-store wardrobe.

-Devon Maloney

Editor's Note: check out Andrew's new album, Noble Beast, on WTBU and in stores now.

1 comment:

atomickitty210 said...

Great review!
I've seen him once before in concert and this made me relieve every moment of it.