By the time Andrew Bird graces the stage, patrons of the Harrow East Ballroom already enjoy a special communion. Judging by the preshow atmosphere alone, one would never know this was the Chicago native’s first time in Rochester, NY. Clustered around the stage, a hive of Bird fans buzz with excitement and chatter; most of us seeing him for the first time. It’s easy to make new friends, including one couple understandably animated after selling Bird a new guitar just hours before, and I see now why Bird uses the Dutch word “Gezelligheid” (roughly meaning “coziness”) to describe his shows.
Harro East is one of Rochester’s gems. The venue’s ornate, Palladian windows fog up to make the already brisk October night look much colder. In a few months, the window panes will catch the perfect amount of snow; one of those little details that make this landmark one of my favorite spots in the city.
Much to my enjoyment, then, Bird quickly makes himself right at home. He opens with the unreleased “Fatal Shore” and the more familiar, heart wrenching “Why”. The latter puts Bird’s soulful vocals on display as his violin strokes reach up and fill every inch of the vaulted, white washed room. Now that he has our attention, Bird wins our hearts by namedropping the cuisine de Rochester; our famous Garbage Plate. The city seems to have made an impression on Bird. Such an impression, in fact, that he plays “Bein’ Green” as “a treat” for his new audience.
An Andrew Bird concert is a masterpiece in violin, guitar, and whistling virtuoso, but Bird is much more than a musician. Bird mesmerizes with his showmanship. Facial expressions, a flick of the wrist, a timely pause; they’re all part of the show. He chats up the crowd in between songs with an affable, comfortable personality that sometimes interrupts his songs. When Bird falters on the crowd pleasing “A Nervous Tick Motion of the Head to the Left” he apologizes by saying, “you know, I’ve played this song so many times”. These occasions where Bird loses focus have become part of his act, and the crowd throws encouragement his way. There’s an understanding between Bird and his fans, as if they are watching an old friend, albeit a friend possessing otherworldly talent.
As usual, the set list comprises of old tunes, like “Carrion Suite” and works in progress. The next full Andrew Bird album won’t see light till early 2012, but the multi-instrumentalist always seems to have new material on standby. At one point, Bird shows off his new guitar, making a special shout out to ‘my new friend the guitar salesman’.
After sufficiently impressing all by his lonesome, opening act Martin Dosh joins Bird on stage. Dosh and Bird have been collaborating like this for years now, but Bird claims that they are just “scratching the surface” and, because of this, the two have decided to set aside ten minutes or so each show for a jam session to “see what happens”. As if this wasn’t exciting enough, Bird announces the two hope to piece together a live album from the tour. Cue raucous applause.
Ten minutes of electro-violin-whistle rock prove to be even more entertaining than one would think, but a great version of “Effigy” highlights Dosh’s participation. With the stage all to himself again, Bird ends his set with “Plasticines” and “Tables and Chairs”. It’s a shame because just as Bird sings “it’s starting to get warm in here / and things are starting to get strange”, I begin to realize how incredible the show has been thus far, and start to realize it’s almost over.
As the lyrics to his last song promise, “There will be snacks” in the form of a two song encore. Bird shuffles up to a vintage reserved special for this song and dives right into the foot stomping, old-timey “Goin’ Home”. Bird’s theatrics work well with the few props he utilizes, the microphone and the spinning megaphone standing tall behind him.
It’s fitting that Bird chooses “Weather Systems” to close end the night, as outside, it has started to rain. Rochester has just mustered up four gorgeous autumn days, and right about now the weather takes a turn for the worse and usually stays there. But before he rather sheepishly takes his stuffed monkey and leaves, Andrew Bird has made quite the impression on his Rochester faithful, leaving us all to hope it won’t be another fifteen years before he returns.