Bird Watching

Ashley and I went to hear one of our favorite musicians, Andrew Bird, in concert on Thursday night. I became slightly obsessed with his music after hearing him interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air several years ago. When Ashley read in Vanity Fair that he was coming to New York–on a day I wasn’t on call, no less–we jumped to buy tickets. Of course, a couple of hundred other people jumped before us, and we were relegated to the upper tiers of the theatre. Somehow, in all the rush, I missed the detail of where the concert was actually to be performed. Then, when I was planning how to get to the concert from work, I got an extra dose of excitement when I saw that we would be seeing him play at Carnegie Hall.

I barely got off work in time, but was able to meet Ashley at Union Square to take the subway uptown. Arriving at Carnegie Hall, my eyes widened as I gazed at the inside of the theatre. It’s a beautiful venue, with its luscious plaster workmanship, gold highlights, and rich, red

velvet. The woman who took our tickets asked “Would you like to take the elevator?” and then asked “Are you sure?” when we declined. It became quite clear why as we climbed up, and up. And up. But it did allow us to admire the box seating on each floor, and gave Ashley a chance to grab some Ricolas. She was quite impressed by the courtesy bins of Ricola lozenges on each floor–presumably to silence noisy neighbors prone to excessive throat clearing.

Bird’s band, Dosh, opened for him (oddly enough), and though they were very good, the real treat was Bird watching (so to speak) as he deftly layered samples of his violin along with guitar, his own whistle, and vocals. At one point, as described by the New York Times, “he had his

guitar slung behind his back, his violin and bow in one hand and a glockenspiel mallet in the other as he whistled into a microphone.” His mastery and intermingling of instruments is remarkable, whistling included! Again the NY times: “He has a sweet, warbling, perfectly in-tune whistle–like a Walt Disney bluebird–that he floats through the rest of his musical constructions, sometimes in unison with the glockenspiel for an otherworldly effect.” As you might imagine, his music is difficult to classify, but I find if you just throw up enough genres, you might end up with something close to what he plays: Gypsy-zydeco-jazz influenced indie folk rock.

The stage itself was something to behold; the speakers were directed through giant gramophone bells, one of which was double-sided and could spin on its axis for a pulsing, throbbing effect. The first song of the set–a violin solo–seemed an homage to the years of classical music that has filled the hall. As a classically trained violinist, I imagine he couldn’t help but want to hear his violin resonate throughout such a classic venue. As he progressed though the set, mainly playing from his new album of scientific references and free associations, what stuck me seeing, rather than just hearing him, was the way in which he was able to take thoroughly modern, rigid, technological devices and layer them and mix them in such ways as to create touching, soulful, and organic sound.

For those interested, here is his website:

And a youtube video from a few nights before:

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