Review: Andrew Bird at D.C.’s Lincoln Theater

Andrew Bird, courtesy of the artist.
Andrew Bird, courtesy of the artist.

WASHINGTON, September 5, 2014 − At first glance, Andrew Bird doesn’t seem to be all that unique as a musician. The music landscape seems to be littered with folk artists out there, especially those like Bird who prefer to be multi-instrumentalists, signaling of their range as musician/songwriters.

When Bird is sitting on stage at the Lincoln Theater, where he appeared recently in Washington D.C., it’s readily apparent that the night is going to be filled with rustic, acoustic guitar playing sprinkled with a dash of other instruments that approximate the same vibe.

None of this is a bad thing, of course. Most folk rock singer/songwriters are talented enough to put on a good show night in and night out. But there’s still this sense of déjà vu all over again that can put a ceiling over audience expectations with regard to how a live show by someone like Andrew Bird’s can really stand out.

Fortunately, Andrew Bird broke through the stereotype in his performance here. Clearly, here was a talent on stage that caused the audience here to sit up and take notice. He accomplished this by turning the stereotype on its ear even as he launched into his opening number.

Most people can whistle, and almost all of those people can whistle to some tune or another. But how often do people actually consider the whistle as something that can be used as a musical instrument in the same way one employs a harmonica?

Whistling is a primary tool in Andrew Bird’s musical bag of tricks and one that he employs often throughout his set. Even if you’ve been prepped for it ahead of time, it’s slightly jarring hearing Bird’s skillful whistling bouncing off the cavernous walls of the Lincoln Theater.

The surprise factor amplifies its effect on the audience. They soon focus intently on the sound, clearly noticing how Bird is able to cleverly bend his whistling talent into coherent melodies that end up driving certain of his songs.

Of course while Bird’s whistling might the most distinctive element in his repertoire, it also speaks to the general mindset Bird takes with him on stage.

As a folk musician, the greatest influences on his output are clearly Irish folk and bluegrass. He’s also been quite adamant that pop music and even indie rock have not influenced him much, although he clearly respects both genres.

Aside from the issues of influence and background, Bird is much more interested in deploying his music as a means of taking the audience on a journey rather than being enslaved to the conventions of a given format.

While on the surface it’s unassuming, the emotional resonance of Bird’s performance ends up hitting like an anvil. His approach for the most part is soft and subtle but it never detracts from the surprising complexity of his songs and their structure, creating a gathering impact as his set advances.

Yet paradoxically, nothing about his music is really that difficult to understand.  While Andrew Bird doesn’t make anything simple or easy, he quietly proceeds to add layer upon layer, gradually adding elements from his back-up band to bring everything to life.

Andrew Bird’s uniqueness ultimately lies in his ability to never settle for the easy solution in his music. His approach forces the audience to dig deeper as they follow the progression of each song, but not in a way that creates undue difficulty.


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