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Live Review and Photo Gallery: Andrew Bird at Green Mill

| April 9, 2019 | 1 Comment

Andrew Bird

Green Mill, Chicago

April 2, 2019

On a brief introductory jaunt for his new album My Finest Work Yet, Andrew Bird returned to his old stomping grounds for the first of two intimate shows at Uptown’s 160-capacity Green Mill. Befitting his surroundings in the venerable jazz room, Bird began with the 1944 Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn standard “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” taking the first of several swooping and swooning solo flights on his road-rashed violin while deftly accompanied by Alan Hampton’s double bass and Ted Poor’s brushed snare.

The five-piece band then dove into the rocker “Sisyphus,” with Bird’s carefree whistle and Tyler Chester’s stately piano heightening the modernized tale of a Greek king cursed to eternally push a massive stone uphill. In the song, the exasperated soul decides to release his burden and let it tumble onto the town below. Next came “Bloodless,” Bird’s most soulful single to date – its downtempo groove and understated piano implying Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” The song is also Bird’s most overtly political, describing “an uncivil war” and those who reap rewards from divisiveness. Eyes clenched, Bird lifted onto his toes for the emotional peak of the song’s chorus before using his looping pedals to create a classical string ensemble from his lone violin.

The gentle ensemble of elegant piano, effortless whistle and plucked violin that began “Cracking Codes” erupted into the band’s full glory, featuring guitarist Madison Cunningham’s arresting vocal countermelody.

Following the urgent “Fallorun,” Bird explained his agenda to the crowd. “It might seem evident at this point that we’re playing the record,” he said. “But I thought I’d break it up with an old tune from the Bowl of Fire days for a little breather.” Bird then performed both sides of the theatrical argument depicted in “Why?” as a moody tango.

Returning to My Finest Work Yet and its second side with “Archipelago,” Bird lingered over the lyric, “Our enemies are what make us whole.” The notion of forging adversity into strength connected, but it remained a tough message two days following news of the Nipsey Hussle shooting in Bird’s current hometown of Los Angeles. The rapper had famously tweeted “Having strong enemies is a blessing” earlier during his final the day.

The terse and smoky R&B of “Proxy” was anchored by Hampton’s pizzicato and bowed bass. Bird’s 12-string guitar gave a bit of REM/Byrds jangle to the folky three-part harmonies of “Manifest,” while also recalling Bird favorite the Handsome Family. The song and its arrangement were still fresh enough that Bird caught himself laughing when entering with a vocal where a whistled melody belonged.

During “Don the Struggle,” Poor deconstructed his drum set, playing an unconventional rhythm with his ride cymbal in his lap. The song swung between melancholy march and cartwheeling musical parade. Album closer “Bellevue Bridge Club” grew steadily into a rapturous climax a la the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Bird gave the stage, band and service of his violin to Cunningham for her breathtaking “Something to Believe In.” The hometown crowd sang along to sentimental “Pulaski at Night,” beckoning a wayward loved one back to Chicago.

Bird closed the show with Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields’s “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby.” The 1928 jazz standard featured beautifully off-kilter drumming by Poor in addition to one more reminder of the long-shed Bowl of Fire sound and how far Bird has carried his music since those turn-of-the-century days. Afterward, beloved and cantankerous Green Mill proprietor Dave Jemilo stoked rounds of applause before unceremoniously announcing an upcoming set by the Fat Babies. “If you ain’t stickin’ around, buy a record and hit the bricks,” he said gruffly, but with a smile on his lips.

The cozy environment at the Green Mill engendered a certain level of studious respect among the audience, but there was no sense that people were itching for the old stuff. Rather, the room was enthralled throughout the show’s immersive introduction to Bird’s 12th album and what is possibly his most robust and stageworthy full collection of songs to date. Bird returns to Chicago on July 16 for a concert at the Chicago Theatre with Madison Cunningham opening.

– Review by Jeff Elbel; Photos by Philamonjaro


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Category: IE Photo Gallery, Live Reviews

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