A small audience waited expectantly in the warm gloom of the Largo at the Coronet for the Andrew Bird Variety Hour to begin. The lovely thing about the Largo is that one can never be certain what's going to happen. Every night is different, anything can happen, and it's never recorded, so the only witnesses are the couple hundred people in that
room. It's the kind of old-fashioned thrill that doesn't happen very much anymore now that you can stream shows online from across the globe and capture them eternally on YouTube with your cellphone. Andrew Bird took full advantage of this freedom and put together a show unlike any of his others.
Opening the night he had an MC, Dave “Gruber” Allen warm up the crowd with self-deprecating jokes about his distinguished acting career, which has included playing “Troubadour 2” in Gilmore Girls and “Hick” in Crossroads (yes, the one with Britney Spears) before Bird took the stage for a small solo set. Looking like every inch a troubadour with wild long hair and an unshaven chin, Bird strode on stage armed with his beloved violin, a guitar, and a looping track. For those of you who have not witnessed Andrew Bird in concert, it is like watching a man construct the most intricate sand castle imaginable.
First he will lay down the foundations by plucking his violin and whistling and then when he's got a solid groove going he will break your heart with a violin solo before putting it back again with whimsy lyrics about neurons or palindromes or measuring cups. It sounds like nothing else, and that's why Bird's recordings can be such a let down. The thrill of an Andrew Bird show is watching him build these gorgeous songs by himself from scratch beginning slowly and building these impossibly intricate melodies and then winding them back down to simplicity again. In a world where sampling has become the norm, Bird is a breath of fresh air.
This is not to say that he's perfect. During “Action/Adventure” Bird completely forgot his lyrics and was forced to restart a number of times prompting a young lady to exclaim, “This used to be my favorite song,” which made the audience roar with laughter. Blushing, he apologized, “I'm so sorry. It just never occurred to me to practice.” He quickly recovered and launched into a mesmerizing version of “Why?” before finishing the set without any hiccups.
After the solo set, Derek Hughes, a young magician from Minneapolis took the stage grumbling about the fact that he had to follow Andrew Bird. “I'm your mental sorbet for the evening,” he declared. “How often do you see a Andrew Bird open for a magician?” Hughes delighted the audience by tapping into that general feeling that we've seen all
the magic tricks before and can't be fooled. Hughes would mess up an easy trick on purpose and then when we all felt superior would dazzle us with a completely unrelated act all the while cracking wise at his assistants. The result was a happy receptive audience, anxious and ready for what came next.
The final act of the evening was a two piece rock band also from Minneapolis called Alpha Consumer. Drummer J.T. Bates and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker raison d'etre was writing lighthearted songs about macabre subjects with barebones garage rock as their base . Each song wasn't longer than three minutes, but varied in topic from life sized voodoo dolls to guns to the holiday crush at WalMart to hand cancer. These guys had no doubts about their own superiority introducing their songs by saying things like “Here's a good one! You're welcome in advance.” For the last three numbers, Andrew Bird jumped in
unintentionally overshadowing Alpha Consumer with his orchestral creations, but the guys didn't seem to mind. It was Andrew Bird's variety hour after all. The evening ended with a rousing old fashioned version of “Trials, Troubles, and Tribulations” with Bird and Ylvsisaker crowded around the microphone dueling it out with a fiddle and guitar. A very fitting end to an evening full of unexpected surprises. That's the wonderful thing about the Largo. You never know what you're going to get.