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Review: Andrew Bird gives rare, playful, brilliant performance at the Straz Center in Tampa

Published Oct. 11, 2012

Name: Bird, Andrew

Kingdom: Music

Class: Violin

Family: Martin Dosh, drums; Jeremy Ylvisaker, guitar; Michael Lewis, bass

Order: Folk indie

Genus: Whistling

Field report: First spotted under a spotlight center stage, Bird, armed with his violin, opened with a delicate instrumental. By way of plucking, tapping and strumming, he enticed and invited the crowd of 807 at the Straz Center Tuesday on a two-hour, 19-song journey through his tender heartstrings.

He only stopped to say, "I'm pleased to meet you," before delving into Why? and displaying his quirky and humorous nature in ways that could only be appreciated in his natural element . He whistled into his violin, played it like a guitar and looped layers while boyishly animating the conversational lyricism.

Finally joined by his wingmen for A Nervous Tic of the Head to the Left, Bird led the show into full flight. His fascinating storytelling of esoteric metaphors escaped in controlled vibratos and falsettos. He manipulated the violin to sound like a ukulele or fiddle, or the whine of a whale's song. It seemed effortless, flawless. The uninhibited onstage creativity transcended any album cut, throwing audible textures and patterns into a vibrant plumage speckled with personality. Between his operatic precision and instrumental mutations, songs like Danse Caribe turned Caribbean and Desperation Breeds romantic.

Bird's preferred habitat: As the grand master of ceremonies, live, with a guitar strung on his back, xylophone in arms reach, violin under his chin and a bow in hand. His nest spread across the stage with the band, a sock monkey set on a table with a double-headed gramophone, and four giant hanging Aerosol horns that spun and projected a shadow of double helix spirals. (Intense moments saw the double-headed gramophone spin wildly, creating a doppler effect.)

Unusual sighting: A four-song spread when the flock (minus Dosh, who stayed at his drum set) gathered for an old-timey huddle at a single microphone in the front of the stage; Lewis switched to an upright bass.

The vintage approach originated on the current Break It Yourself tour and evolved into the atmospheric angle for Hands of Glory, an eight-track companion album slated to release Oct. 30. Songs featured from the album throughout the show: Railroad Bill, When That Helicopter Comes, Three White Horses and If I Needed You (a Townes Van Zandt cover).

Notable Bird songs: Tables and Chairs, I'm Goin' Home (a Charley Patton cover), Fatal Shore and Fake Palindromes. He'd whistle as if it was a mating call and captivate the audience into a still silence with dramatic pauses. So much emotion, expression and passion dotted each delivery. Bird crafts his own colorful songs and orchestral arrangements, making him an instrument and ensemble to himself.

Several families, couples and singles came to observe the unique specimen. Poetic, poignant and engaged. Not even the ubiquitous shouts from a Tampa audience could ruffle his feathers. Although, a call out for "snacks" toward the end of the show prompted Bird to add playful lyrics to closer Fake Palindromes: "There will be snacks, all kinds of snacks, I don't know why you're so concerned."

If you didn't spot the rare creature during this migration, you may have missed out on one of the top acts to hit Tampa this year. If you ever get the chance, be sure to go Bird watching at least once.

-- Stephanie Bolling, tbt*

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