In 2001, when I was overly busy following Ryan Adams and Cowboy Junkies around the Midwest, I was first introduced to a guy and his violin. This particular person could also whistle clear enough to give you chills, create imposing fractured patterns on guitar, and draw you into his music because it changed in similar ways your feelings do when you’re first in love. Of course, the guy I’m referring to is Andrew Bird.
The problem I have with writing this column is that, for one reason or another, I haven’t completely taken hold to his entire catalog of impressive music. It’s not because I don’t enjoy it; it’s more because I think it’s over my head. If you already didn’t know, Bird is smarter than most, and in different ways than say, Bob Dylan or Jay Farrar. Those artists I can listen to and come to a reasonable conclusion about what they might have been thinking; with Bird, I have a harder time. This can be a beautiful thing, as you know.
Part of the intimidation factor comes from the fact that the first and only time I have seen Bird perform, in 2002, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had only listened to a few of his songs, and they were full of puzzling beauty. But, they didn’t prepare me for the surprise I was fed when I saw Bird on stage; he was alone, but not lonely. There were maybe 40 people who came to see him — hell, I felt lonely. But, like a quixotic hero, Bird handled himself magically as he played his tunes to a room that could have echoed if it wanted to. He made a zillion facial expressions, gave his music space, and made me think about who he really was. I enjoyed myself, but didn’t exactly fully understand his art.
Problem is, until a few weeks ago, when I heard Noble Beast for the first time, I’ve never really cared to find out more about Bird. Sure, I kept hearing bits and pieces of his career, but a full album never surfaced around my ears, from start to finish. I feel distant and crawling anger about the time I’ve lost without his music. Especially since I saw him back in the day when it was $5 a head and you could hear yourself breathe in a room full of honest fans.
Never mind that though; I’m here to tell you about Noble Beast. While it sacrifices nothing, the music feels a little more at home, like it wants you to believe it wants to hold hands, although that’s probably far from the truth. It begins in a dreamlike state, with the friendly and whistling “Oh No,” and then slowly begins to show its bright and brazen teeth. Bird has let the light in on this album; it’s like he remembers those aforementioned 40 or so people who came to see him when he was struggling and has finally let them witness a golden smile that leaves a mark. The permanency in this album is undeniable.
“Fitz and the Dizzyspells” and “Tenousness” might be my favorites, but I still need to spend more time with it – time that I’m now looking forward to making. I’ll probably never understand the true beauty of Beast’s “Anonanimal,” but that’s okay (and damn if “Privateers” doesn’t get stuck in my head); I now believe it will suffice to at least make an effort.
As I explore more of Bird’s music in the days ahead, I just hope one thing is true – that climbing up his tower of songs is easier than hanging on.
Because, these days, I’m bound to try and do it all at once.
He said it: