Live Review

Andrew Bird, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow

Although everything is pleasant and melodic, there are no real jolts or thrills.

The Fruitmarket is laid out with cabaret seating. Before the acts begin, one man is reading The Guardian and there are a lot of people who look like they’re wearing corduroy, even though they’re not. There is a politeness about Andrew Bird’s recent music; he’s a dextrous musician but there’s something a little insubstantial and vague in the atmosphere of this live show.

Perhaps I was hoping for more surprises. Bird uses his fiddle like a uke, employs a high percentage of whistling and loop pedals, has a sock monkey at the back of the stage and his trademark revolving double gramophone horn speakers which kick in to create an uneasy whoosh effect whenever a track needs texture. But although everything is pleasant and melodic, there are no real jolts or thrills.

From chamber pop to a North African vibe, his violin provides drama in his sound, but any gravitas achieved is balanced out by his nagging reliance on whistling – like a busker using limited resources in imaginative ways, at first it seems inventive – but when employed on every song it soon begins to cloy.

“Damn you for being so easy going,” Why?’s semi-spoken quirky jazz promises something intriguing, but when the three piece backing band arrives this avant garde approach is substituted with something more conventional. Afro beat drums help, but are short lived. However ‘Danse Caribe’, with its New Orleans blend of styles, does pick up the pace with even more spirit than it has on latest album ‘Break It Yourself’.

‘Measuring Cups’ sees Bird pick up a guitar, and ‘Eyeoneye’ seems like a straight bid for indie recognition as the self-confessed “loudest song in the set.” He seems apologetic about this and wondering how to follow it, offers us a heartfelt rendition of ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’. It all makes sense now, Andrew Bird is a lanky Kermit! But surely frogs can’t whistle?

The rural musical landscape of the new album is overtaking his urban busker schtick and he makes room for an “old timey” segment in the set. Drawing his band around an old fashioned mic they play a bluegrass tinged take on ‘Give It Away’, and follow it with a Soggy Bottom Boy-ish cover of The Handsome Family’s ‘So Much Wine’.

‘Effigy’ is a rare cut from his breakthrough album ‘Noble Beast’, which has largely been overlooked this evening, and ‘Lusitania’, minus its duet with St Vincent’s Annie Clark, lacks punch.

Returning for an encore of a Townes Van Zant number, ‘If I Needed You’, he demonstrates a musical versatility which is less apparent in his own material. Bird is comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, perhaps a little more excitement and a little less whistling would make things really, well, fly…

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