Andrew Bird ended the tour for his most recent album, Are You Serious? at the Paramount on Tuesday and did not go down without a fight. Bird’s talent goes beyond his wide vocal range and serious whistling skills with technical deftness and informed musical experimentation. He switched from instrument to instrument, at times harmonizing with his violin or jamming on his acoustic electric. Our hypothesis to all of his mad genius: a second set of arms tucked behind his spiff suit jacket.
On tour in support of his latest debut, Are You Serious led to Bird playing the album in its entirety. But of course this did not stop the violinist from sprinkling in a few cult classics like, Nervous Tim and 3 White Horses - automatic crowd pleasers. We were excited to see Bird so into his new album, after putting out thirteen albums the newness and excitement can easily turn to lackluster complacency. His excitement is evident in not only the album as a whole - which draws on a more intense and whimsical Bird - but from his overall performance in Denver. A night that can be summed up with a few words: brash ingenuity.
A testament to Bird’s orchestrated chaos is the wild and free ease in the way he so carelessly loops various instruments together. Beginning in silence, adding in violin, finishing it off with his branded piccolo whistle… and even with all of that going on he still manages to hold a stoic and collected stage presence. His true talent rings true through performance, Bird commands the crowd with a single vibrato whistle and carries it through the disarray of multiple instruments harmonizing effortlessly.
Bird is innovative while remaining familiar, classic, and candidly eccentric. Are You Serious? carries lyrics that are perfectly relatable (lot’s of “I” and “you” pronouns indicative of pop lyricism), combined with classical instruments like the violin and glockenspiel, all working to create a pastoral feel while ascending into a heavy assault of ardor; a revelry in the trifles of modern romance and the beauty of modern confusion.
Are You Serious? Is evidence of Bird’s ever-increasing talent; it reaches a deeper complexity with its arrangements than we’ve seen in his previous albums, but maintains the emblematic clarity and familiarity of his previous work. Bird took to ambient drifts, slipping through the undercurrents we hear his first albums including the Fingerlings series; at times dipping into the ethereal, minimalist sound-scarcity of his wholly instrumental, acoustic album released in 2015, Echolocations: Canyon. His looping echoes created an atmosphere that is both dense and arid. Bird built surges of sound decorated effusively with finger-pickings, bird songs, water trickles and the like.
The album is a departure for Bird in that he draws upon influences such as Radiohead and other alt-rock artists like The Black Keys in his opening track “Capsized”, bringing gritty elusivity anointed with his definitive jazz and swing influence. The verve pulled a current of palpable energy out of the Paramount, a hard feat for an all acoustic ensemble. Bird’s taken on a distorted guitar and added strength to the bass, all welcome additions. Bird told Live Nation of his thoughts on the new direction, “This one was particularly epic. The whole process just seemed more intense than previous albums. I was really determined to nail something and push into some new areas.” That he did, and then some.
Bird and his band slipped innocuously offset after their hour long phantasmagoria; the modulations, darting lights, and sonic loops did not grow tiresome for Denver’s Mile High city who “gets live music,” as Bird uttered before jumping into four encore songs including a Bob Dylan tribute who celebrated his 75th birthday that night.
Thirteen albums is a hefty accomplishment for any artist, but it seems as though the lyricist from Chicago is simply building off the ample foundation he’s cultivated since the mid 90’s. If this album is any indication of what Bird is yet to unveil, then we’re buying presale on his next.
Words: McClain Morris & Kendall Morris