LastNight: Illinois Polymath Andrew Bird Plays More Instruments than Everyone at the Warfiled, Combined
Click on the pic for a slideshow by Ariel Soto. Listen to Bird's rock/folk/indie stylings at the Andrew Bird myspace. Total plays — 1.8 million. So there.
Word by Tristan Johnson
Critically acclaimed violinist/guitarist/whistler/singer/songwriter Andrew Bird played SF’s historic Warfield Theatre Sat night to before a nearly capacity crowd who came to revel in a command performance of Bird’s signature songs, haunting sound and on-stage theatrics.
Clearly the meat of the evening to most of the crowd, Bird’s arrival on stage was met with an assault of cheers and whistles. Dressed in a tight brown 3-piece suit and rainbow striped socks, Bird quickly said hello and lept into his first song; an eerie instrumental piece played entirely on the violin with Bird whistling over it. Bird’s signature style invovles layering picked, strummed and bowed violin phrases over each other, as well as under his solos.
He plays them into a foot-switched loop and then turns them on and off as he wishes. It's the kind of thing that sounds nice recorded but just blows your mind to see performed live.
As Bird progressed through the beginning of his set he slowly added more sounds to the repertoire, first voice and xylophone on song two then his guitar finally made its way into the mix on song three – a soaring piece that featured Bird stomping and turning circles on stage alternately picking up and putting down his violin while turning loops on and off with his feet and swinging the guitar on his back up and around to play. Finally Bird was joined on stage by a drummer/keyboardist who worked similar loop and sample magic with his instruments – at times playing drums with two feet and one hand while playing the keyboard with the other hand; and bassist/guitarist who was not afraid to turn the distortion up and play his guitar, or bass, with a bow instead of his fingers.
The ensuing hour+ set was an exercise in violin-driven jazz-rock that kept the crowd engaged and threatened to make you forget that you weren’t on acid – perhaps a good fit for the Warfield. Bird’s departure from the stage around 11 p.m. was met with a roar of cheers and applause, and after some brief technical issues he re-emerged from the wings to play a two song encore – one solo and the other with the band. As the lights came up and the crowd spilled back into the reality of cold wind and Market St panhandlers, it was impossible to make your way down the street without feeling deep inside as though you had just witnessed something remarkable and already wished that you could get it back.
Albuquerque’s The Handsome Family started off the show with a short set of flat-picked alt country tunes about the darker side of life. While lyrically rich, the band’s sound seemed to suffer from a bit of the jitters for the first few songs, though husband and wife team Brett and Rennie Sparks never strayed far from their well-established on stage banter. While known for looser on-stage performances, the duo certainly tightened up for the last few songs. The crowd was appreciative and warm, but the Family never quite got their juices flowing.