Show Review + Photos: Andrew Bird and the Heartless Bastards at the Pageant, March 15, 2009
Andrew Bird concerts don't follow the normal dynamics of a rock & roll show. The singer, guitarist and violinist takes time to create layers of loops with his battery of effects pedals, and most songs take a minute or so to come into full bloom. What the audience experiences is not so much a concert as it is an act of creation, one that reveals each song's components one step at a time.
At last night's sold-out Pageant show, the audience was more than willing to let Bird and his bandmates stretch out and build the various parts of their lush, swirling folk-rock songs. Bird took the stage solo for two songs, beginning with an instrumental violin/whistle composition that turned into "The Water Jet Cilice." Bird's three instrumentalists joined him for "Masterswarm," one of many tracks from this year's Noble Beast played last night.
Throughout the set, Bird and co. displayed their willingness to alter each song's arrangement; very few tunes stuck to their recorded arrangements. Instead, "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left" was given a jarring, sped-up overhaul, and new song "Not a Robot, But a Ghost" ended in a haze of static-y ambience.
Bird's songs tend to fall in two camps: swooping, open-ended, down-tempo excursions and more straight-ahead rockers. The latter didn't need much tinkering, and on songs like "Oh No" and "Ftiz and the Dizzyspells," he set aside his violin and let his guitar do the talking. The best of these came at the end of the proper set with "Fake Palindromes," a swooping, driving song from 2005's The Mysterious Production of Eggs. It was the high-energy point of the show, and one of the few songs that found the attentive crowd bobbing in time (as opposed to merely listening politely).
The encore began with a solo version of "Why?" (from 2001's The Swimming Hour). It was Bird's chance to show off his melodramatic side, treating the song like a cabaret standard with exaggerated swipes at his violin. It was a sharp turn from his usual stage persona, which normally finds him mumbling song names and self-deprecating jokes into the mic. The band returned for the final number, "Tables and Chairs," an older tune that presaged our country's current economic crisis by predicting that our "crumbling financial institutions" will become Utopian playgrounds. It was a nice thought and a fine send-off to the show.SLIDESHOW
Dayton, Ohio's the Heartless Bastards opened the concert with a 45-minute set of ragged country- and blues-indebted rock & roll. Singer and guitarist Erika Wennerstrom has a killer voice that can rise above the guitar twang of her band's raucous songs, but on slower, quieter songs like "Sway," she uses jazz-like inflections to make her point. Organizers of St. Louis' annual Twangfest showcase would be wise to book the Heartless Bastards -- soon.