Andrew Bird at the Schnitz was a reminder that not every show is going to connect with everyone.
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, OR
The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall marquee proudly proclaimed: “Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet.” Only Bird—the acclaimed violinist, songwriter and whistler extraordinaire, now an astonishing 12 albums in—could call an album My Finest Work Yet and depict himself on the cover in the role of Jean-Paul Marat in Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Marat and yet not come off as a self-aggrandizing and pompous asshole. While its top place within the Bird canon might be up for debate—The Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha would like a word about that debate—the fact that he’s able to get away with putting that title on a marquee might itself be his finest accomplishment to date.
The set dressing surrounding Bird and his five-piece band was among the most interesting I’ve seen at the Schnitz. The stage was framed by bizarrely shaped windows onto which various colors and shapes were projected throughout the show, which was a lot less distracting than it could have been. Bird also had his bizarre spinning gramophone horns, which got far less use than one might’ve imagined. His appearance was announced by his shadow, carrying his signature violin, projected onto a cartoonish-looking door towards the back of the stage and on two mock windows hung above the stage, like Peter Pan’s shadow with an equally silly hat. Bird emerged from the door to thunderous applause, ready to launch into a swirl of instruments that served as the prelude to the band’s playthrough of My Finest Work Yet.
Okay, so it wasn’t a traditional playthrough: “That was the end of Side A of the record,” Bird announced after “Fallorun,” before noting that they would take a brief break from the album. That break took the form of Noble Beast classic “Oh No” and a pair of Are You Serious tracks—“Truth Lies Low” and “Roma Fade”—before returning to finish the album off. While the setlist was great, it seems Bird is content to distance himself largely from anything older than Noble Beast, which regrettably meant kingmaker records like The Mysterious Production of Eggs (seriously, no “Fake Palindromes”?) and Armchair Apocrypha (“Heretics,” anyone?) were entirely absent, though Bird was sure to add in a four-pack of songs from 2016’s Are You Serious.
While the show sounded fantastic, it felt perplexingly difficult to engage with. Bird is a magnetic and talented performer, and watching his slender frame at center stage, plucking his violin like a ukulele and whistling like the animal kingdom’s most gorgeous songbird, was a magical experience. But his magnetism lacked immediacy. It’s hard to even put a finger on why. Backup singer and guitarist Madison Cunningham, outside of a couple lovely duets with Bird, was given the spotlight at one point to play one of her own songs. And Abraham Rounds, a supplementary drummer who also plays with opener Meshell Ndegeocello was also impressive. Yet something about the show’s energy felt strange.
Andrew Bird at the Schnitz was a reminder that not every show is going to connect with everyone. As I left following a gorgeous encore closer of “Pulaski at Night,” I found myself easily transitioning into the real world, rather than finding myself stuck in the world of the performance, a trait of the best of shows. Whatever the case, the experience certainly won’t stop me from giving him another shot next time, whether he’s performing his finest work or not.