[29 August 2011]
PopMatters Associate Events Editor
Andrew Bird has played in front of thousands, and on some of the world’s most renowned stages. He has headlined New York City’s Carnegie Music Hall, played major sets at both Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, and overcrowded Chicago’s Millennium Park. His music is easily transferable to a large venue but, in the opinion of many, is best heard in the intimate confines of a small concert hall. Boulder, Colorado’s Chautauqua Auditorium sits perfectly in this latter category.
With a capacity of only 1,200, Chautauqua is Boulder’s largest music venue. But if you were to ask many locals they’d probably tell you they’ve never been there—that is, if they even know it exists. The other two main venues in town are under contract of a rather large event promoter, so the few shows each year at Chautauqua are often overlooked or not publicized heavily. But just because it is relatively unattended amongst Boulder residents does not mean much—it is easily one of the most beautiful, historically charmed buildings in town, if not the state of Colorado. The sound quality is crisp and natural—since the erection of the room in 1898, it has seen only minor renovations that have actually lowered the capacity significantly, while also updating acoustics. The timber-supported, unheated barn has hosted such renowned names as Joan Baez, Wynton Marsalis, Mary Chapin Carpenter, as well as speakers Vice President Al Gore and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, to name just a few. Andrew Bird came into the evening clearly aware of the history of the room.
After a short, impressive set by Haley Bonar, Bird took the stage alone but for a basic setup—a guitar, a violin, a glockenspiel, a microphone, some pedals and a few speakers. His set consisted of mostly new material, and it was rather clear that Bird was excited to test out most of it a fresh audience, in its raw form. He jumped back and forth between instruments, recording loops and seemingly experimenting all while whistling and singing, but still managed to keep a picture of calm on stage. That calm crept into the audience too—the sold out crowd remained silent for the entire set, afraid to miss one note.
But Bird was not about to shy away from his older stuff—nor did his musical experiments lack energy of any kind. His animated rendition of “Why?” had most holding in laughter. “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” actually dropped jaws—to see a single man play so many musical parts and barely lose the momentum of such an intricate song was truly impressive. And the set closer, “Tables and Chairs”, led into a thunderous eruption upon his transition into the final section.
Bonar, who joined Bird on several songs and can also be heard on his album Armchair Apocrypha, was again brought out for the encore—a cover of Charley Patton’s “Goin’ Home” which was performed with a single microphone, a fiddle, and two sets of vocals at the base of the stage, in front of Bird’s setup.