Without having much history with the music of Andrew Bird, I attended his 2009 show at the Ryman Auditorium based on his reputation alone. I failed to be overwhelmed that night and left more impressed with his exciting opening act, the endearing St. Vincent. However, I always remain open to giving an artist a second chance, especially at a show that’s convenient and free. Since I had already planned to be at the Caitlin Rose in-store which preceded Mr. Bird’s set this evening, I simply held on to my valuable spot up in front of the capacity crowd after she and her band gave us their 30 minutes. On the other hand, outside the new Grimey’s Too, an overflow crowd of 100-plus stood outside the front door, able to hear but not see his performance.
As I previously reported in this blog about Rose’s set, Bird’s appearance was a last minute thing. On his way to film for PBS’s Bluegrass Underground (in a cool cave at Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, TN), Andrew arranged a quick tune-up at Grimey’s. This would actually be his third performance for the store, however, his first after having achieved his considerable success. Rather than the full band experience I saw at the Ryman, this was a stripped down three-piece acoustic ensemble, joined this evening by singer-songwriter Tift Merritt. Tift supported the guys with some guitar and vocal accompaniment in what would be her second appearance with Andrew. The first came about on the night of Superstorm Sandy when in a pinch, the Brooklyn neighbors became replacement guests on the Letterman show.
Like he does so well, Bird kicked things off with a whistling introduction to the aptly-titled “First Song,” Throughout the evening’s set, he alternated between guitar and violin and spent his time on the latter either plucking it with his fingers or playing it with a bow. The Bird trio plus one worked together just fine, creating a lively and vibrant sound—one that while somewhat off-beat, had a raw and fresh flair that managed to capture the spirit of an old-fashioned bluegrass romp.
Offering a song selection spanning his career, Andrew commented on how he has reworked the lyrics to some of his older songs. And, lyrics are precisely where my problem with Bird lies–I love the music but I don’t like the songs. I’m forever a sucker for words I can follow and make sense of. As for adjectives to describe Bird’s songs–quirky, strange and perhaps pretentious are the ones that come to mind. While I stood listening at Grimey’s, I could never jump on board with his songs and after hearing a few lines of each, I felt repeatedly lost. But I felt like I was alone in this sentiment since Bird had this crowd of young and exuberant fans totally in his command—even though when my eyes scanned the audience, I couldn’t find a single person who was singing along with him. I guess many younger fans today look at songs much differently than I do.
As for the Bluegrass Underground taping, I suspect that its quick sell-out meant that Bird’s faithful fans grabbed most of the tickets. However, I can still imagine at least one old bluegrass bubba in the crowd saying to himself, “Dang, that boy can sure play—but what in the world is he singing about?”
- First Song
- Give It Away
- Dark Matter
- MX Missiles
- Three White Horses
- Something Biblical
- Danse Caribe
Andrew Bird – lead vocals & whistling, violin and acoustic guitar
Jeremy Ylvislaker – acoustic guitar
Alan Hampton – stand-up bass
Tift Merritt – backing vocals and acoustic guitar