Is it fair to pre-judge the standard of a concert by the crowd? Well, yeah. And looking round at the assorted breeders, feeders and freaks queuing up to see this skewed, Chicago-born singer/songwriter – all beard-stroking Tarquins braying about smoking jackets and genetic defects – we’re in for a pretty rum show.
First support act Tim Keegan certainly doesn’t disappoint. Your fourth-most-talented- friend-made-geography teacher, Keegan’s wallpaper-fat acoustica drives everyone with hair back to the bar. Until, that is, The Real Tuesday Weld take the stage. Trust me, there is no way of describing these guys without making them sound shit – but if you can picture an Eye Spy-era Jarvis Cocker fronting a band full of camp, clarinet-toting Agent Smiths, then multiply by brilliant, you’re almost there. Stupid, beautiful and blessed with the unhurried poise of never-gonna-bes, they still can’t hold a candle to the main man himself.
There are two words to describe Andrew Bird as a live performer. One is genius and the other rhymes with punt. In the past, musicians have moved me, improved me, made me cry and helped my sex life, but this man has a talent that could knock teeth out at ten paces. What other skinny, Steve Coogan-alike could sing, whistle, throw wild rock guitar shapes, bang a xylophone mid-strum, play the violin like a violin and like a guitar, whilst sampling himself live – often in the same song – and keep time with both his backing track and the accompanying drummer? What other fledgling artist could massacre his two best songs in the first ten minutes – the fragile Sovay, and the bonkers Rawhide revelations of A Nervous Tic Motion Of The Head To The Left – with apple-shining showmanship, and still hold a room full of boozed-up hellcats from the planet Ra-Ra in the palm of his multi-hyphenate hand?
On his And The Mysterious Production Of Eggs record, Bird’s fraught and fragile folk songs are pretty and diverting – the quirky best female friend you kind of want to sleep with, but never do. Live, they’re all fisting and no foreplay; a blur of new emphasises and dynamics that allows this virtuoso Pied Piper to thrust his pallid, ugly stepchildren into the storm.
Indeed, the clanging beauty of Measuring Cup and Fake Palindromes are closer to theatre than music: stuttering monologues screamed out by an epileptic genius trying not to bite off his own tongue. It’s like watching someone spinning musical plates; a performance that could topple over the edge at any moment but never does; the intangible alchemy of excellence.
Live, Bird is in a place where passion is a necessity, ability is a gift to be shared and tightness is a happy accident. That you should buy his album is a thought, that you should see him live before you die is a given, but that you should orally pleasure him in gratitude is merely a considered request.