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Review Mon Aug 18 2014
I've seen Andrew Bird in an array of settings. I've seen him at a smaller stage at Lollapalooza six years ago. Since then, I've had the pleasure of seeing him own his unique musical style nine more times. He's played for a hushed, watchful crowd huddling around a lone microphone at the Museum of Contemporary Art. He's played at Fourth Presbyterian Church amidst the serene and exquisite backdrop. He's played a variety of Chicago music halls. However, he had yet to play the delicate and divine Chicago Theatre until this past Saturday evening, which I found baffling due to his greatness. One of my favorite venues, with such pristine sound, was about to see a glorious appearance.
Springfield native Daniel Knox opened up the show. Unfamiliar with his music, I scanned the stage to see an unconventional array of instruments, including what looked like a musical saw, piano, guitar and drums. Knox, with a burly beard and dry wit akin to Nick Offerman, featured songs with hauntingly beautiful piano accompaniments along with lyrics from his husky vocals that are sardonic and smart. In "Ghostsong" off of his latest album, he states, When I come back to life, I'll find you / Push my thumbs into your eyes and blind you. This created a ripple of giggles and smirks amongst the crowd, delighting in the fact that such a gorgeous, serious musical backdrop could be laden with these lighthearted words. His voice then emitted a ghoulish wail, yet it was beautiful, distinct and heartstring-tugging. I felt as if I was in a trance for his brisk 30-minute set, in which the theater became a silent arena for Knox to showcase his very unique music. His next album will be coming out in February, and I can't wait to listen to the newest material, some of which he debuted at the Chicago Theatre for us lucky listeners.
Andrew Bird emerged next, amidst a flare of amber light upon him, and no other illumination present. He played nearly 10-minute-long jam "Hole In The Ocean Floor" first, which reminded me of past Gezelligheid concerts in the way the light enveloped him and shone into the crowd and the fact that a largely instrumental ballad was utilized to open up the show and completely unite listeners within his musical community. He next played an older number, "Plasticities," which he briefly goofed up the beginning of, causing a knowing smirk to creep across his face as he begins again. His genius isn't immune to mistake-making; after all, he is not merely a musical god, but a human one at that. However he tarries on and showcases his innovation, which is in fact, perfection in itself.
The Hands of Glory band joined him next, including songstress Tift Merritt, who provides the perfect complement to his musical craft. Playing a handful of The Handsome Family cover songs off of Bird's latest album, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of..., the group dazzled the crowd with "Tin Foiled," "Frogs Singing," and "My Sister's Tiny Hands." The backdrop of the stage was simple and inviting, strands of lightbulbs reflecting a warm glow. Bird and the group huddled around one lone microphone off to the right side of the stage for a majority of the set, as the group played a stunning version of "Give It Away," feeding off each other's energy and showcasing their intricate musicianship, entwined with one another's talent.
A highlight of the set (one of many) included when Andrew Bird described his journey with "Pulaski at Night," a newly created hometown ballad for us Chicagoans. Singing the lyrics about Chicago seemed even more beautiful and heartfelt in such a historical Chicago institution. Overall, the evening seemed to be shrouded in something completely otherworldly and magical. The energy was unmistakable, and as Bird came back onstage to play his encore of veteran tune "MX Missiles," "The Giant of Illinois," and "Don't Be Scared" (both The Handsome Family covers), I did not want the evening to end. The horn in the back of the stage spun quickly as the sound reverberated, light shining on his lone sock monkey mascot. Though I'm not sure when it will be, I cherish the next time that I will get to see such a fantastic performer showcase his musical growth and innovation once again.