Andrew Bird | Fourth Presbyterian Church | December 19, 2012
Photo by: Sara Mays
Andrew Bird told the packed house at Fourth Presbyterian Church that his annual run of "Gezelligheid" holiday shows (that's a Dutch word loosely meaning cozy or quaint) are his favorite of the year. Given the awe-inspiring setting— Neo-Gothic arches! Stained glass! Natural acoustics!—relaxed form and unbridled audience enthusiasm, it's not difficult to understand why. It was his first performance in a three-night run consisting of two appearances at the Mag Mile church followed by a third at the Hideout.
Not only did he break in a new stage setup, complete with impeccable lighting and Ian Schneller's fantastic horn amplifiers, a pair of which whirled in time with the music, but also a new pair of shoes, whose thick soles proved to be an unexpected barrier between the ace whistler and his looping pedals. After a few false starts during the first half of the evening's showcase, which was essentially a solo affair with aid from singer-songwriter Alan Hampton on upright bass, Bird made nice with the new kicks and the rest of the evening went off without a hitch. Abstract takes on new and existing works, including "The Naming of Things" and "Hole in the Ocean Floor," reverberated through the sanctuary like some heavenly being, enveloping onlookers in an exquisite, at times sleepy, sonic sheath.
After a quick intermission, Bird invited singer-songwriter Nora O'Connor to the stage for a run of flawless two-part harmonies during covers—a peppy take on Townes Van Zandt's tearjerker "If I Needed You" and "The Sad Milkman" by the Handsome Family stood out—and originals from the twangy and indie-pop portions of his songbook including "Three White Horses" and a new song, "Pulaski at Night." He cut loose with cheerful anecdotes and the occasional comic flub, including an accidental guitar to the nose, which brought an informal, almost familial sense to the room as the set extended well past the two-hour mark. It was the perfect picker upper after the ambient first half, and proved that carols and candy canes aren't necessary ingredients when crafting good holiday cheer.