We drove up, got slightly misplaced in Portsmouth (lack of street sign and bad directions), found ourselves, had a quite nice dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Sake, and trundled over to The Music Hall in time for the opening act, Torontonian Sandro Perry. Which turned out to be a mistake, because while Mr. Perry has a rather beautiful voice and is a pretty decent guitarist, he needs some seasoning--and to develop a stage presence, and learn the delights of variation. There were passages of his songs that were really lovely, but they tended to decay rather quickly into repetitive noodling.
But then there was Andrew Bird.
Mr. Bird is rather hard to describe, as a performer. His stage persona is indistinguishable from an inebriated adjunct professor, complete with cardigan and vest--if the dissolute academic in question were being played by a young Peter O'Toole, and had a sideline as a mad scientist specializing in making weird and pleasing sounds. He's a multi-instrumentalist, and when he performs alone--as he was tonight--he adds texture and richness to his sound by live-sampling and looping his own performance, layering bowed violin over plucked violin over electric guitar over glockenspiel over whistling over vocals--and doing it all while you watch, with a mad awkward sort of joy in making all this fabulous, gorgeous noise on the fly.
And he does this all while staggering about the stage tripping over things in gaily-stockinged feet (yes, I have a soft spot for gawky boys in colorful socks), fussing with the mix, swapping instruments on the fly, and--in the grand tradition of Bowie and Byrne--dancing like an utter spaz. And just when you think you have him figured out--okay, he's an innovative musical genius with a really cool schtick--he lays aside the gadgets and the giant spinning gramophones and fiddles up some gospel.
If that's not enough for you, how can you fail to geek-love a guy who writes songs about tardive dyskinesia, or mah-jong and the singularity as metaphors for a relationship in which everybody has one foot out the door? You've gotta respect a guy who can rhyme "plecostomus" with "innocuous" and make it sound inevitable, not to mention "hand of glory" with "Grimm and Gorey."
And then there was the tragic saga of the 26 chickens....
You can listen to the entire album The Mysterious Production of Eggs (streaming) here, and you can listen to or download Andrew Bird performing live at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC in 2007 here. Also, there's a bunch of a/v at his website.
Check out the whistling. Seriously.