I’ve always been a proponent of the theory that Andrew Bird’s albums tend to be growers—their intricate brilliance isn’t always immediately apparent, but the more time you give them, the greater the layered, looping dividends will be.
I think the same is true for an Andrew Bird live show. It helps if you come in as a fan, with a fairly thorough familiarity with his work. His subdued, focused performance Monday at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre wasn’t the kind of show to win over the unconverted, but a Bird diehard like myself was thrilled at the extended deconstructions of some catalog hits and cuts from the shimmering beauty of new record Break it Yourself, which dominated the setlist.
After taking the stage alone and opening with the sprawling “Hole in the Ocean Floor,” Bird admitted he was feeling a little stressed out and needed to play a song more for his own benefit than the audience’s. That was “Why?,” a wry, talky cut from Bird’s Bowl of Fire days. It was hardly an orthodox opening, but it certainly set Bird on the right track as he was thereafter joined by a full band and pushed through an annoying main speaker buzz to deliver a transportive two-hour set.
Bird’s songwriting is fascinating. He has the ability to take the most arcane of subjects—say, the pollination patterns of bees, as in new album opener “Desperation Breeds…”—and craft a moving, thoughtful song around it. We’re not talking about tortured metaphors here. Bird fully embraces the peculiarities of his given topic, but doesn’t create something too clinical or too precious out of it.
Monday’s show saw him perform fairly faithful renditions of Break it Yourself’s jackknifing baroque pop numbers like “Danse Caribe” and “Give It Away,” along with the more straightforward rock of single “Eyeoneye.” Even better though, were his reinventions of older material, like an extended jam of Armchair Apocrypha’s “Plasticities” and an extra droll rendition of the apocalyptic “Tables and Chairs” from The Mysterious Production of Eggs.
Wedged in the main set was a sweetly melancholy cover of “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” and the too-brief encore featured Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” and “Weather Systems” from the album of the same name, which gave Bird’s exceptional violin skills—equally amazing in picking and bowing—one final, transcendent showcase.
The only downside to possessing as incredible a selection of songs as Bird does is that a two-hour show doesn’t even start to scratch the surface of his catalog of music. Nonetheless, Monday’s Seattle stop was a gorgeous evening.