Me: “I’m going to see Andrew Bird!”
You: “Who is Andrew Bird?”
Me: “He’s an indie rock songwriter who plays the violin.”
Andrew Bird usually plays in late-night clubs, but in October he appeared with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for a pops concert; also on the bill was singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane. (Kahane orchestrated Bird’s songs for the performance.) I bought tickets months in advance.
The performance cast Andrew Bird’s songs in a new light with the full orchestra filling out the songs and giving them a symphonic largeness. Some of the accompaniment was a little atonal for my taste — I would have preferred more melodic orchestration — but it still brought out the real beauty of great songs like “Pulaski at Night” and “Scythian Empires.” I love classical music and I love indie rock; I’d like to see more match-ups like Andrew at the Kennedy Center.
The night made me reflect on the five times I’ve seen Andrew Bird in concert … An earlier band called Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire in Austin at the South by Southwest music festival, probably around 1997 … At Tampa’s Straz Center in October 2012 for his album Break It Yourself … For his album Are You Serious at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., in April 2016 … At Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2017 … At the Kennedy Center Pops Concert in October 2018.
Here is my ranking of Andrew Bird’s Top 5 albums (or EPs).
5. I Want to See Pulaski at Night (2013) – The pop song perfection of “Pulaski at Night” with its lilting violin hook is nestled between soothing instrumental variations. This is a great EP for just chilling.
4. Break It Yourself (2012) – Andrew Bird doesn’t really have “hits” per se, but the song “Eyeoneye” is a real rocker, and he played it on a late-night show or two when this album came out. The other songs are more leisurely and melodic, call it music for the planet Earth: the fragility of the natural world (“Hole in the Ocean Floor”), staving off climate change (“Desperation Breeds”), or traveling by boat (“Lusitania”) to Australia (“Fatal Shore”).
3. Armchair Apocrypha (2007) – This album has my second most-favorite song ever of Andrew BIrd’s, the thumping disco lullaby “Plasticities” with its warning to never let life’s slow unfolding lull you to sleep intellectually: “We’ll fight, we’ll fight for your music halls and dying cities/ They’ll fight for your neural walls and plasticities … precious territory.” There’s also the adventure story opening song “Fiery Crash,” the environmental warnings (again) of “Spare Ohs” (“What remains of the small flightless birds that you failed to protect?”) and the mythic galloping horse riders of “Scythian Empires.”
2. Noble Beast (2009) – So many great cuts on this one, from the mysterious sadness of “Oh No,” to the memory games of “Anonanimal,” to the pastoral longing of “Souverian.” It’s an album for sitting on a front porch at twilight on a summer’s night, sipping a cold drink.
1. The Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005) – This is the Bird album I go back to again and again and again, because just about every song on it is so memorable and sweet. There’s my No. 1 favorite song of his, “Tables and Chairs,” a wistful love song for when the end of the world arrives. There’s the elegiac and soothing “Sovay,” there’s the pulsing syncopation (and whistling) of “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left,” there’s the child’s play marching song “Measuring Cups.” I could go on, but better that you listen yourself.