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Andrew Bird’s Big Sound Fills Radio City

June 19th, 2009

Andrew Bird – Radio City Music Hall – June 18, 2009

(Photo: Cameron Wittig)

(Photo: Cameron Wittig)

When the curtain was pulled back at Radio City Music Hall last night, there was a wizard standing there. A real wizard for once: Andrew Bird, with spirals of looping violin curling around his lone figure onstage summoning more and more sound and releasing it into the room until an echoing cacophony filled the chamber completely. His band joined him and this noise became “Sweetbreads,” and the wizard behind the curtain became Willy Wonka. In Wonka’s world, everything is edible. In Andrew Bird’s world everything makes music—hand claps, whistles, violin, xylophone, guitar and, of course, his voice all moving together in a complicated contra dance. I have seen several amazing shows at Radio City, but never have I seen the venue filled with music the way Andrew Bird did: perfectly coating the walls and arching ceiling.

And never have I seen an Andrew Bird show so dominated by his voice, which stood out more prominently than the band and the looping instruments, whistling and all.  Through a set consisting mostly of new material, the majority off of this year’s Noble Beast, Bird coaxed his voice and his band, a bit stuttering at first, then more confidently. Things really gelled midway through with a majestic, wall-of-sound “Effigy” followed by a powerful “Nonanimal” and a rollicking “Fake Palindromes.”

As the set wound down, supporting act Calexico, in full—more guitars, pedal steel, xylophone and trumpets—joined Bird and Co. for a climactic one-two-three punch. The 11-strong ensemble took a big sound and made it even bigger, finally exploding with a highlight version of “Scythian Empire.” —A. Stein