Andrew Bird at The Thekla

Noble Beast has been the default album of choice these last few months, rapidly working its way into the old psyche so that frequently one its songs will be rattling around my heading in the morning. The prospect of seeing Andrew Bird was already more than tempting but the 09.30 Club show put out by NPR only confirmed that it had the potential to be a special event.

Strangely this was my first show at the Thekla (largely I guess because my usual gig buddy son is still oh-so not quite 18 and so unable to access this old tub) and what an oddly endearing venue it is, deep in the insides of some hulk of a ship laid up in Bristol’s Mud Dock (ah the romance of the name) for which there is bound to be a rich history that I am ignorant of.

Peering out of one of the oblong ‘window’ apertures on the balcony level made me feel a bit like an extra in a nasty west end musical but it did at least afford me an excellent view of the stage not 10 feet away – a stage that it must be said is microscopic, the kit of the two bands filling it to the brim.

I know that ‘intimate’ venues always look impossibly small yet seem to cram in more people than you imagine, but it seemed to me (perhaps mistakenly) that both bands were a tad underwhelmed by the venue, maybe expecting something a little larger.

Anyhow Cortney Tidwell (you would do something about the name wouldn’t you?) and her band took the stage and knocked out some frankly rather good stuff – I knew nothing of them and apart from rapidly saying their individual names, saying they were from Nashville and have a new CD due out onCity Slang, I learnt little more from them. Cortney has a fine voice reminiscent of Bjork on occasions, the band did some fine stuff and I found myself transfixed by the drummer – this sometimes happens to me I have noticed, not through any weird homo-erotic leanings but my own absence of rhythmic ability draws me to wonder at those who have it in spades. Anyhow some fine stuff, the last track being especially affecting (whatever it was called), I of course got the last CD – Don’t Let Stars Keep Us Tangled Up – and hope to rediscover some of the stuff they played through this.

Mr Bird was as hoped, an extraordinary chap. He looks like a regular IT technician, slightly geeky and gangly (in a good way!) but has an immense talent – guitar, vocals, the violin and of course his trademark whistle. OK he may not be the first person to use those natty loop machines to build up layers of sound but good grief he does it with majesty – complex layered loops of violin snatches, bits of whistling, hand claps, guitar riffs overlaid with his pitch perfect vocals. I can safely say I have never seen anyone produce this sort of quality, creativity and emotionally engaging music all on his-ownsome. Of course the addition of a drummer/keyboard/knobs and buttons man plus a bass saxophonist and a far-back guitarist only adds depth and richness but it is still Andrew Bird that produces the great majority of the wonderful sounds. At times it was hard to know whether to concentrate on the music or be absorbed by his darting between pedals and buttons, guitar and violin – stabbing, pressing, twiddling without losing a beat and generating a seamless stream of magic (ooph, better ease up now looks like I am getting carried away….)

The hour and a half set of course ran through many (but far from all) tracks from Noble Beast, and pleasingly several from Armchair Apocrypha plus no doubt some from other albums that I don’t know. A cover of a Smog track and an apparently old gospel song added different facets to the mix, all welcome.

His closing, solo encore was jaw-dropping and I am unable to describe it adequately – not a track that I know, but a staggering mix of virtuoso violin playing, mastery of the loop technology, guitar and the voice and whistle. Quite exceptional – as Ms Butterworth said on the stairs on the way out – perhaps the gig of the year so far?

Cortney Tidwell Myspace

Andrew Bird Website

Andrew Bird Myspace

Thekla Website

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