Saturday night, I had the pleasure of catching the St. Vincent/Andrew Bird concert in Portland. Both performances were fantastic. I’ve been to upwards of a hundred shows in my day, and never have I seen an audience so completely entranced. For three hours, it seemed as though no one hardly moved or breathed or even blinked.
Part of what made Andrew Bird’s set so special was that he was performing solo. With just a violin (and occasionally some guitar) he recorded a series of loops live, on stage, and used a bank of foot pedals to trigger the loops as needed. Layer by layer, he built each song right in front of the audience—perhaps some percussive plucks to start, a few mandolin-like strums over that, then a gorgeous melodic line repeated in two, then three-part harmony. On top of this, he played guitar, whistled, and sang. Spinning behind him was a custom, double-belled-gramophone-shaped Leslie speaker.
There is a nerve-wracking element to creating live loops. Right away, I started thinking, “What if he doesn’t time it right? What’s he going to do?” I found out soon enough. He recorded a loop that ended up being a little too laid back for the song and then just simply stopped, explained the problem, and tried again. There were a few more times throughout the show where he had to re-start--and you know what? It didn’t matter one bit—not to him, not to us. This wasn’t about his ego; this was about making gorgeous music. This is the mark of a true artist. He embodied his art so completely, I started to wonder if he would be able to exist without it.
For those of you who live in Maine, you can catch Andrew Bird and St. Vincent on AUSTIN CITY LIMITS on MPBN, October 28th at 10:00pm. For the rest of you, check out this performance from last year at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.