Andrew Bird

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday December 16, 2017

Andrew Bird

Chicagoland native Andrew Bird is like the unusual Specimen speakers he uses: stark yet melodic, a stand-up, sexy, semi-solo one-of-a-kind orchestra.

Bird is the multi-instrumental wunderkind veteran of bands like Squirrel Nut Zippers and Bowl of Fire.

The speakers look like eight-sided fiberglass petunias, four as large as a person, and two are double-belled spinning models, bouncing Bird's remarkable catalog off the dimly lit pews of Chicago's mammoth Fourth Presbyterian Church. (The Specimen shop is located in Chicago's Humboldt Park, and their gorgeous, pricey speakers envelop the listener in merging, Doppler-like wavefronts from the horn as well as from reflections off other surfaces; the rotating rigs have a foot pedal to vary speed "from slow undulations to a very fast swirl.")

The brief holiday homecoming concert is named Gezelligheid, Dutch for cozy, but, while friendly, Bird is not cozy. He's a challenging, state-of-the-art mix, wholly himself, yet evocative of the Violent Femmes (playing a violin like a guitar, accompanied by fraught, thoughtful -- "fraughtful"? -- lyrics), Laurie Anderson (looping ethereal fiddle phrases), Brian Eno (the original "systems initiator" and musical innovator), Radiohead (haunting Thom Yorke voice and face), alongside a one-handed xylophone riff, as well as a tribute to his last name, an Old West showdown whistle.

His partner-in-crime Alan Hampton joins for most tunes on standup bass and a variety of guitars and harmonies. Opener Joan Shelley joined the duo for the encore, lending her Louisville, Kentucky, lilt to the modern folk tunes.

Bird's program was a successful mix of old and new, from a song he wrote a few weeks ago to an old-school version of "Dear Old Greenland" from 2001's "The Swimming Hole." He also covered a Handsome Family song (after previously releasing an entire album of their covers): he blended their "Too Much Wine" with the traditional "Greensleeves" to make "Green Wine."

And that's what Bird does best -- mixing lyrics and genres (add in some things Baroque and all things indie to the smorgasbord), high tech looping and hard-working musicianship, low-key with intense energy, pain, and pathos after what he called "a tough year." It's an O, Brother Where Art Thou-flavored rural/urban, bluegrass/gospel redemptive soundtrack by a rare bird.

Andrew Bird performed Gezelligheid from December 11-14 at Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut Street. For more information, visit

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at