Andrew Bird’s Chicago roots ensure that his shows in the city are always more than simply another performance. The songwriter is notorious for choosing some of the city’s best venues, from 4th Presbyterian Church to Chicago Theatre to the Hideout, and delivering an unparalleled live experience regardless.
When Bird announced two shows at classic uptown jazz club The Green Mill, there was instantly a buzz surrounding them, with a lottery system in place to even allow fans the opportunity to buy tickets.
The excitement could be felt as fans stood in line prior to the show, and as fans rushed in to grab tables, booths and bar seats in the intimate space before they filled up. Roughly 100 people were in attendance when Bird and his four band members took the stage.
Hardly addressing the cheering audience, Bird opened with jazz standard “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” popularized by Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker, amongst others. The loose, spacious jazz chords backing the song allowed Bird’s dramatic vocals to capture an emotional intensity that matched the audience’s energy and played into the Green Mill’s Prohibition-era history. Not far from Bird’s older work with the Bowl of Fire or Squirrel Nut Zippers, the cover was the first of many treats throughout the night.
The band, consisting of a bassist, lead guitarist, drummer and keyboardist, was the same that played on Bird’s recently released record, My Finest Work Yet. The album was primarily recorded live in the studio, and you could feel it in their cohesiveness throughout the night.
Recent single “Sisyphus” is a fantastic live track, with distinctive songwriting that harkens back to Bird’s work a decade prior, but fleshed out with a more piano-driven, full-band backing. Second single “Bloodless” followed, featuring a more complex structure that built to a dramatic finish. The sound of bartenders washing dishes behind Bird’s violin solo only added to the night’s charm.
Besides, Bird has history with the venue.
“I used to live in this neighborhood, and I used to come here in the mornings… I came here to play the jukebox because it was quiet, but you had to order a drink…at 10am,” he said with a smirk. “There was no where else to go.”
Bird then continued working his way through My Finest Work Yet in order, nearly uninterrupted.
“Fallorun” stood out as a highlight, with dense violin looping that recalled 2009’s Noble Beast, but soon gave way to driving electric guitar before returning to a dramatic violin solo.
The only older track performed within the run of new ones was “Why?,” a song that debuted nearly two decades ago in Bird’s Bowl of Fire days and has slowly disappeared from his setlists over the past seven years. With quirky songwriting and electrifying violin work, the jazzy song was another fantastic treat that rewarded those in attendance.
A review of this show would be incomplete with mentioning the sound quality the Green Mill offers. Even listening to Bird’s modern folk-rock songs, the warmth of the sound system and room takes you back to the 30s. The drummers toms and bass sound like they’re five times their actual size. The cymbals splash and ring through the building for an eternity. Each time the bow touches the violin you can hear the friction, the treble notes literally wrapped in warmth as the bass parts remain round, deep and clear. Though I have no intention to take away from the actual performance, the mere opportunity to see such a talented folk-rock act in such a space may have been the highlight of the experience.
Anyways, back to the music.
“Archipelago” found Bird switching seamlessly between violin and acoustic guitar on the melodic song that could have easily fit on 2012’s Break It Yourself. “Manifest” featuring a trippy, psychedelic guitar intro, still fit the band nicely. “Don The Struggle” is massive in the live setting, featuring a breakdown as fun as it is rocking, but still offering the kind of jazz that should be found in the Green Mill.
The band seemed to be constantly gaining steam, with Bird possibly more excited to play the venue than the audience was to be there.
After completing My Finest Work Yet, the band took on live staple “Three White Horses.” The slightly shorter version still featuring Bird’s distinctive looping, with layers of violins, vocals and whistling creating a dense, emotional whole. Guitarist Madison Cunningham then performed an original song, “Something To Believe In,” her delicate vocals and spacious, gentle electric-guitar picking fitting the set and the venue perfectly.
The band then took on “Pulaski At Night” with such fervor it felt the song could simply explode, a jazz drum solo placed in the middle, offering a unique take on Bird’s most commonly performed song. Following a lengthy, swing-jazz violin solo, Bird ended the show as he began, offering a beautiful take on Billie Holiday’s “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”
The magic of the Green Mill certainly wasn’t lost on Andrew Bird, or anybody present at the show that night. These are the type of evenings that make Chicago the incredible city it is for music fans.
Read the setlist and watch video from the show below.
1. I Fall In Love Too Easily (Frank Sinatra cover)
5. Cracking Codes
9. Proxy War
11. Don The Struggle
12. Bellevue Bridge Club
13. Three White Horses
14. Something To Believe In (Madison Cunningham cover)
15. Pulaski At Night
16. I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (Billie Holiday cover)