Andrew Bird, Mesa Arts Center, 4/18/12
Photo by Melissa Fossum Andrew Bird at Mesa Arts Center
Mesa Arts Center
Wednesday, April 18
When I opened the doors of Mesa Arts Center last night to see indie rock whistle-master Andrew Bird, I was greeted by an ocean of flannel shirts and beards. Folks were politely waiting in line for an overpriced beer and excited to see the show. The girl at will call told me she heard a guy had come all the way from Los Angeles just to see Mr. Bird and would be driving back after the show.
Andrew Bird has a fan base -- the dedicated, serious, and loyal kind. The average listener has maybe heard one of his songs in the John C. Reilly flick The Promotion, or maybe they have heard the beautifully orchestrated song of whistles on the soundtrack of the newest Muppets movie. But for people who don't have even that limited exposure to Bird, I have no way of explaining what he represents and what his music sounds like. It sounds like Andrew Bird.
The man himself casually walked onto the dimly lit stage just after 9 p.m., and without a word, he picked up his violin. For six minutes, he played the instrument as it should be played and used his feet to loop and layer the sounds and harmonies he was creating.
Photo by Melissa Fossum Andrew Bird at the "old-timey" microphone.
He transitioned to whistling, which he does so damn well, and went back to the violin, this time playing it like a tiny glossy guitar. With each passing moment, and each addition of a sound and a note and a whistle, the audience witnessed as Bird pieced together an orchestra all by himself. At one point, I swore there was an entire band on stage, but it was just him with his corduroy blazer with the elbow patches and his hair stylistically unbrushed. When he was done and the last of the whistles and violin strums echoed through the theater, the audience gave praise as he welcomed them. "Hey, everybody pleased to meet you. I don't really play classical music, but it's all that wants to come out."
He remained on stage alone to play "Sifters," a song from his newest album, Break It Yourself. The album version of the song has a handful of instruments. Bird chose to layer his acoustic guitar and his voice to crowd the stage, and at the same time it isolated his voice enough so that the crowd could focus on the lyrics that he is so well known for. When the song ended and the applause slowed down, the three other bandmates for Bird on the tour walked on stage and took their places behind the guitars and the drums. Again, without a word, they slowly crept into "Desperation Breeds...."