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Andrew Bird and Patrick Watson in Boston
Andrew Bird and Patrick Watson
House of Blues
At the Boston chapter of the House of Blues, folk music melded with electric rock, as Canadian indie darling Patrick Watson opened for multi-instrumental wünderkind Andrew Bird.
Watson was joined by a guitarist, a bassist, a violinist and a drummer. Their set was charged with hard and psychedelic folk-rock, with a dark, heavy rhythm section. Slightly ominous full-band crescendos enveloped sections of delicate vocals and Watson’s piano-playing over nine songs, which lasted about 45 minutes. Of note was a stretch of several songs performed acoustically with the band members packed tightly together, front-and-center, a set-up later emulated by Andrew Bird. Patrick Watson started this segment with “Words in the Fire,” which he said was inspired by an experience in Québec province. He and the band were invited by some young fans at a concert to a campfire north of Montréal. Once there, they demanded Bob Marley tunes but, as Watson said, he had to admit “I don’t know any.” “The Quiet Crowd” was a strong number, dedicated to “the quiet people” and featuring rag time-y piano.
Andrew Bird then turned in a virtuosic, near-two-hour set that saw the bandleader mix in a generous helping of his new material off of this year’s Break It Yourself with some older selections that he often presented in slightly altered versions. To literally set the stage, several hanging sculpture-lights rotated behind Bird and his band, just in front of the two-headed, twirling gramophone that the Chicago native set off with the touch of a switch. The nod to old-time music was no surprise to Bird’s fans and was continually referenced by the use of his main instrument—a violin—which he plucked, pizzicato-style, while holding it and playing it like a guitar (in addition to traditional bowing).
Bird employed the violin, the xylophone and an affinity for whistling in a looped, solo symphony to open his performance. He also used his full singing voice, after whistling into his violin’s resonance hole. During the third song of his evening, “Danse Caribe” from his latest release, Bird gestured emphatically with one hand and danced by jerking his body around and moving his head erratically. There was also a prodigious whistling solo in this tune, which rivaled his performance on the recent soundtrack of The Muppets, where he voiced a new Muppet Walter—dubbed “The Whistling Caruso.” The element of theatricality recurred, as he seemed to be almost reciting poetry or a monologue during “Action Adventure,” from 2003’s Weather Systems. Then he shifted to a more straight-ahead rock sound on new track “Eyeoneye,” on which Bird moved to guitar.
Following “Bein’ Green,” from last year’s Muppet tribute Green Album, Bird, his guitarist and bassist formed a tight semi-circle at the left side of stage for an acoustic interlude of three songs. “Effigy” from 2009’s Noble Beast stood out among the group of songs in this sequence. Other highlights to follow were gently folk-rollicking “Plasticities,” with Bird again on guitar and his drummer playing keyboards while simultaneously adding percussion with his foot.
The room’s disco ball spun during the high point of the concert, the rousing “Fitz and the Dizzyspells.” The regular set ended with two from Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs, including “Tables and Chairs,” where he transitioned effortlessly from violin to guitar (slung on his back) to xylophone and whistling and singing.
On the second number (“Happy Day”) of a three-song encore, Bird and the band was forced to restart after they fell briefly out of synch. Bird laughed and the crowd offered an encouraging round of applause, conscious of the high level of musicianship on display by an artist that continues to push the boundaries of contemporary pop music.
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