After getting over the initial shock of my words “No, I haven’t heard of him before,” my fellow photographer quickly assured me that this should would not leave me disappointed. For a moment, he paused and set aside his own duty of being at the show to review it and photograph it like I was. He began to tell me the history, from start to finish, of Andrew Bird. So many details of Mr. Bird’s talent in whistling, use of instruments and stage personality. He promised me that I would walk away thoroughly impressed as a new fan. I readied my camera and caressed anxious excitement to my waiting.
I will be honest: I listened to some of his music so I was a little familiar, but a fan? I wouldn’t want to categorize myself as one just yet. The few songs that I had listened to were beautiful and soft. I knew that I was attending something relaxing, but this was truly emphasized once he started to play. The violin started talking and began to travel into his signature long notes for the first song. Eyes closed and head waving back and forth; it was obvious he was finding his place on stage and very comfortable with where he was: his sweet home Chicago. His voice opened freely, wave-like, equal parts soft and incredibly powerful. I was thrown into a trance, hanging on every word that echoed from the stage. It flowed in as smoke, haunting, beautiful, with embers of life burning brightly within. His silver-threaded black jacket shimmered lightly in the deep blue lighting that enveloped him and his band. The spinning double horn’s satin finish reflected the light while wavering the sounds it was projecting.
The Jay Pritzker Pavilion was a perfect place for this performance. It was outdoors with scalloped metal roofing covering just enough to hang over the stage and a few of the first handful of seating rows. The crisscross piping curved overhead from the left side to the right side. Originally, we were promised stormy and possible evacuation-inducing weather; Mother Nature decided to blow all of that awfulness past us. As Bird hopped from one song to the next, the cool summer breeze that traced across my face enhanced the melodies coming from his violin. His guitar and violin playing sounded like another voice singing alongside his unique voice. They were instead a fellow band member and not a lifeless object that he cradled in his hands compassionately. One of the things that truly stood out to me was how delicate each pluck sounded. It was accompanied by his whistling, which caught me completely off guard. “Is that him?” I wondered to myself. It wasn’t the typical sharp whistling that bombards your ears with abrupt stops; Andrew’s whistling had a very soft beginning and drawn out end to each note. By this point, the lights had changed to a royal blue with yellow gold highlights, intermixing purple tones based on the lyrics.
Once I was done taking my pictures, I returned to my seat. I took notice to the kinds of facial expressions that the audience wore. The pavilion had filled almost entirely and there was even more tuned in from the grass area beyond. They were there to see and hear him. To hear his gorgeous art, that stemmed from the Suzuki Method that he trained with from a young age. A method that focuses on tonality and the way the artist creates music through the instrument. The audience looked onward towards the stage with faces of pure happiness. They were certainly at ease, and appeared to be dancing with the music in their heads. Frolicking through a field, per say. Their imaginations were painting pictures based off the music in front of them. Pairs of eyes, bright and sprinkled with stars, met the end of every song with glorious applause.
I walked away from the show with a new artist to look forward to. I enjoyed how his music made me feel. He projected true emotion on stage. Andrew Bird is an artist who has a wonderful history and rich body of work for everyone to enjoy. My fellow photographer’s description of him did not disappoint me. It laid down the perfect foundation for me to begin my journey of learning about Mr. Bird. He is a storyteller in need of no stage overwhelming theatrics. He moves and distorts his voice in ways that easily taps into all the emotions that are within the story of his songs. One song I was dreamily entranced with and then the next he faded into another song that made me cut out all thoughts in my mind so that I could devote all attention. I never took thought of the different ways one could play the violin. The traditional big orchestral performances were all I’ve ever been familiar with. But the display that Andrew had put on was whimsical and magical. He crafted abrupt, sad, sorrowful and then happy, chirpy, giggling noises from the violin. I still hear new ones that I didn’t catch onto before, every time I listen to his music now.
Banner photo provided by Earwolf.
All words and gallery photos in this article by Alicia Polk of Silvereye Photography.