A WORLD CLASS ENIGMA
June 18, 2009
By ROBERT BIESELIN,
WHO: Andrew Bird.
WHAT: Baroque indie-rock with classical and pop layers.
WHEN: 8 tonight.
WHERE: Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Ave., Manhattan; Ticketmaster or radiocity.com.
HOW MUCH: $34.50 to $44.50.
Andrew Birds music seems to veil itself behind a vast, velvety drape of scales, keys and chords (both major and minor), toes just barely peeking from below the covering like the prodigious progeny of melodious madmen playing hide-and-seek in an opera house.
Hash in violin samples and whistle loops, as Bird does during his live shows, and you have an even denser style complete with a complex mnge of competing soundscapes impossible to describe with words (with any precision) without any aural accompaniment.
Trying to explain it, as you can see, doesnt do much good.
In an attempt to get some insight on what music shaped the varied and mysterious palette of the multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter/world-class whistler wholl play Radio City Music Hall tonight, we just asked him about it.
(It proved helpful. As he explained, "If youre going to have a conversation with me Im going to be pretty open and frank, but I cant take responsibility for the music.")
AS A CHILD (when he started learning violin, at 4, via the Suzuki teaching method)
The stuff I gravitated toward [as a child] was Dvorak, Ravel, Beethovens violin concerto. I guess I dont prefer quite as dramatic music anymore, but when youre growing up and everything seems kind of life and death theres very little difference between Mozarts Requiem and something full of pathos like "My Bloody Valentine."
HIGH SCHOOL (when he started to expand his skills on violin, guitar and glockenspiel)
Up through high school my diet was still mostly classical. All my friends were into goth, and I was listening to Mozart.
I learned [violin] completely by ear, so I was playing and listening to classical music like it was a folk tradition and I was really just soaking it in.
COLLEGE (while studying violin at Northwestern)
In college I got a little more restless. I was very thirsty for non-Western music, and I still wasnt into pop music. So I was going from South Indian classical music to Gypsy music to music from Ireland and the Philippines and old-timey tunes and early blues and early jazz. And I kind of got settled on this early 20th-century cabaret and jazz thing.
I was just pretty ravenous in that period, from week to week it was just something different. I was trying to not just appreciate it, but learn it.
AFTER COLLEGE (when he put out a solo album, then three as Bowl of Fire)
The first two records were decidedly referential to that early 20th-century thing I was into. The way I look at it, I was still in a student phase or a music fan until I was about 26. So I made a couple records under the sway of my record collection, and at some point I lost interest in that and started doing a "none of the above" thing.
I think my taste did change [after the Bowl of Fire album "The Swimming Hour"], but the real issue was I wasnt content to let half the songs be written by my record collection.
NOW (after four more solo albums, including his latest, "Noble Beast")
[Recently] Ive gotten into early Staples Singers stuff really, really intense and soulful. So, yeah, I still listen to a lot of old stuff even though I dont tip my hat to it as much anymore.
I keep coming back to early gospel and early blues stuff. Its the family vibe, theyre all singing together and Mavis Staples, this is when shes a teen, she has this really deep, earthy voice.
Its a textural thing, I think, and its just so musical and natural you cant argue with it at all.
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