Simply Heavenly

December 11th, 2012

Andrew Bird – Riverside Church – December 10, 2012

You knew it was going to be special before the music even started. Walking into Riverside Church, the audience sat in pews under an arched ceiling that was so high it may as well have reached the sky and looked upon a stage filled with so many Victrola horns, big and small like some steampunk public address system, it may as well have been a zillion. The possibilities seemed infinite. Finally Andrew Bird took the stage for the first of two intimate Gezelligheid shows, the solo, instrumental concert that, in the end, was neither solo nor instrumental.

The music started as ethereal, semi-improvised compositions, Bird mixing, sampling and looping violin, glockenspiel and his whistling into music apparitions that weaved through the stone archways of the church, becoming part of the architecture. The music seemed to take on a life of its own after leaving the horns, notes bouncing back and forth against one another, foreshadowing future interactions and eliciting awed silence from the crowd. Bird and the horns cast looming shadows on the walls, adding perfectly to the ambiance, with the bow of his violin the silhouette of a sorcerer casting his wand. Real songs made their way into the set: old songs reimagined, new melodies that weren’t yet songs fully realized and even a Cass McCombs cover. At some point, Bird’s bass player, Alan Hampton, joined in (“You didn’t think I was going to do this all by myself, did you?”), and the duo closed the first set with a strong stretch that included a new song, “Pulaski at Night,” a reworked “Orpheo Looks Back,” off Break It Yourself, and a pitch-perfect “Plasticities.”

After a short break, Bird returned with Hampton and special guest Tift Merritt. The second set provided a nice contrast to the open-ended first, more focused on songs from both Break It Yourself and his newest, Hands of Glory. He described it as an “old-timey” vibe, and the trio huddled together harmonizing around a single microphone. They opened with “Give It Away” followed by a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You,” the tenor of the music slightly more grounded, but the result still simply heavenly. A closing section that included a lifting version of “Eyeoneye” had a little bit of something for everyone sitting silently in the pews. The possibilities were infinite, but the music was real. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood |

(Andrew Bird also plays Riverside Church tonight.)