Review and Photos – Andrew Bird at the Centre for Performing Arts, Vancouver, Jul 26 2023
The view from the balcony before the show showed the sizeable stage at the Centre for Performing Arts that dwarfed the set for Andrew Bird’s show. Fit with homestyle area rugs and a double-headed gramophone, the energy from the stage—especially with the lights on—was cozy and ambient.
It was the moment that Bird and two accompanying musicians took the stage that the vibe shifted. There was nothing small about this performance. The volume and variety of music that poured from the speakers could have tricked anyone into thinking this was a five or six-person band. Aiding this effect was the skilled use of looping and layering technologies. It was easy to get the impression that the trio was playing on top of a backing track—they were not.
A veteran on the indie-rock scene, Bird has been releasing music since 1996. Yet even as he performed through select works from his decades-spanning discography, there was a freshness and air of experimentation that carried through the set.
Just once was this veil of modernity pierced for a more classic feel. About two-thirds through the set Bird announced that it was “time for the old-timey portion of the show.” Ditching the looping pedals for a more intimate moment, Bird and his companions shared a corner of the stage for a selection of older hits. Included were covers of Neil Young’s “Harvest” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” by musical composers Rodgers and Hart.
From one bar of music to the next, Bird would go from plucking at his violin like a banjo to running his bow along the strings with orchestral skill. Likewise, it was a delightful surprise when he would pause his singing to whistle a flawless and near-inhuman tune. This never failed to get a raucous cheer and round of applause from the audience.
Bird moved through genres as easily as he swapped instruments. From rock to folk, to “a song about Joan Didion” (“Lone Didion”, if you’re curious), he managed to arrange a varied and fulsome set that kept the audience intrigued. And this was undoubtedly a team effort.
The audience got to meet drummer Ted Poor before the show, as he filled in for the under-the-weather opener. In one song, he moved a blanket over the tops of his drums with his hands, imitating the sound of flowing water. Later, he struck the still blanket-covered drums with his sticks. This dampened sound contrasted with and enhanced the full power the instrument released once uncovered. Bird said it best: “he’s very good at music.”
The star on Bird’s other side was bassist Anna Butterss, whose backing vocals and turn on the double bass were both highlights. In “Bloodless For Now”, Butterss’ harmonies hit especially hard. It’s doubtful that the lyric “In Catalonia” could ever be performed more euphorically.
In contrast to the beginning of the set, where songs like “Sisyphus” had everyone grooving in their seats, Bird saved a couple more low-key gems for the encore. This felt fitting for a Wednesday night. Renditions of “Never Fall Apart” and “Capsized” left the audience with a warm feeling and a smile on their faces—more than anyone could wish for on a mid-week night out.
This wasn’t a concert to miss. At once intimate and anthemic, Bird, Poor, and Butterss played an unforgettable set that showed a mastery of skill that was a privilege to witness. With 16+ albums in the vault already, one can only hope that Bird continues releasing music and touring for many years to come.
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