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Review / Setlist / Video | Andrew Bird @ Fourth Presbyterian Church 12/15/16

By: Alex Wood | Video: the1stMikeC | Photo: @jamesrichardsiv

Andrew Bird’s Gezelligheid performances at Fourth Presbyterian Church are a tradition of sorts in Chicago, ringing in the holiday season with a solo performance from the violinist as gorgeous as the intimate setting itself.

Having attended at least one of Bird’s church dates nearly every year since their inception, my expectations were high based on prior experiences.

Though the setlists for the first two of the three nights were similar, the shows were very different, with Wednesday’s performance marred by a number of technical difficulties and Thursday’s ironed out practically to perfection.

Because of this, my review will stick primarily to Thursday’s show.

For years, Bird has preferred opening these dates with “Hole In The Ocean Floor,” a song that sets the perfect tone for his style on violin. Bird entered the song with confidence, blending a dizzying array of loops, violin strokes, plucked strings, whistling and bells to create a dramatic instrumental before beginning to sing.

This approach underlines what makes his music and these shows such a perfect pairing, its beautiful and unique nature a point of pride in Chicago’s music scene with a genuinely warming quality in an otherwise freezing December.

In short, it’s all that longtime fans could hope for in the Gezelligheid dates.

Unfortunately, the song-driven and pop-oriented nature of Bird’s most recent album, Are You Serious, meant a decrease in such instrumental prowess for this year’s church shows.

Yet hearing the new songs in a solo scenario offered an interesting glimpse into the power and expertise behind their writer’s methods.

“Capsized,” paired with an opening instrumental “Journey In Satehidananda” both here and on his previous, full-band tour, proved to be a perfect fit, and not terribly dissimilar to the opener.

More loops appeared after the end of “Hole In The Ocean Floor,” Bird eventually using effects pedals to play recorded melodies on his bells kit backwards over dark and dissonant violin strokes, plucking strings to quickly add numerous violin melodies in higher registers.

The instrumental gave way to “Capsized,” a highlight of the new album, which allowed the audience to watch Bird recreate each element of the song, first locking in the chord progression and bass line before moving on to vocals and rocking electric solos.

Having only begun debuting these songs at these dates last December, they had a new swagger and confidence to them that indicated the musician’s pride in their existence.

“I’ve got the rhythm of this thing down now. This is kind of my version of the Vegas residency,” Bird said after, a favorite joke of his at these dates.

For “Tenuousness,” Bird recorded a dense splattering of violin loops, pacing frantically in circles, eyes on the floor, listening to each play back and adding intricate countermelodies to his liking. The vocals were transformed from the original to a less formal, Dylan-esque delivery that screamed of the musician’s dry humor.

As always, these older songs have grown and evolved along with Bird, a reminder that those from Are You Serious will surely do the same.

Bird spoke of a recent date at Carnegie Hall that Bob Dorough, a 93-year-old writer for Schoolhouse Rock, attended, and performed a humorous, math-dependent rendition of “Figure Eight” from the classic children’s show. Dramatic picking gave a serious nature to the otherwise silly song, with Bird fumbling through the lyrics on Wednesday but nailing them the following night.

A song unlikely to appear in setlists again, “Figure Eight” is a perfect example of why fans flock to the Gezelligheid dates each year.

As Bird moved across stage to a single, old-fashioned microphone, he addressed the technical difficulties of the previous night, when a radio broadcast from a neighboring high rise has been audible through the speakers throughout the show.

Flicking a switch on an unused amp, he pointed out that this “happens every year,” and that he was trying to “turn down our wattage” to avoid it becoming audible.

Fortunately, the sound problem was primarily resolved for Thursday’s show.

He told the story of writing a melody in hopes of his song being used in Django Unchained. Though the movie rejected the song, he rewrote it as a theme for Zach Galifinakis’s Baskets, though the show didn’t end up needing one. Thus, “Saints Preservus,” a song about an out-of-body experience at Costco, found its way to Are You Serious.

His performances at this microphone eliminated the ability to loop, encouraging straightforward performances that drew on his folk influences and emphasized songwriting.

Both nights, Bird called the singers from opening band The Lady Parts, Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan, back to stage to provide background vocals and an occasional acoustic guitar for a run of songs, the three standing around the single microphone, adjusting volume by moving closer to it as needed.

The Handsome Family’s “Cathedral In The Dell” proved to be a highlight of this portion, with gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies and a verse sang by Hogan. The absurdity of the songs lyrics even earned laughs from the usually silent audience.

Bird also converted The Handsome Family’s “So Much Wine,” a song that tells the tale of an alcoholic’s ruined Christmas, into a holiday song by pairing the lyrics with the melody of traditional “Greensleeves.” Humorous and original, it proved a positive addition to the set.

Bird offered a political jab before “Sic Of Elephants,” joking that it was the time to bring back a protest song, and noting that he initially wrote it after George Bush was re-elected.

You were right – there was never reason to worry

Money made your eyesight all blurry

Making lists of pacifists – Recalcitrant poses

Can’t you see how dangerous the one you chose is?

New songs “Sifters” and “Roma Fade” followed, Bird back to performing alone and looping.  He then performed Gezelligheid staple “Three White Horses,” but first apologized again for the previous night, when he had abandoned the song after a single verse, frustrated over tuning issues.

“This one I tried last night and I couldn’t do it. It fell apart, so I had to stop,” he said modestly and honestly. “But I’m going to try it again tonight.”

Fortunately, the song sounded fantastic, always becoming a highlight when performed. Complicated violin loops grew endlessly upward, until met by abrasive electric guitar chords and ghostly vocals. Soon, Bird was looping his vocals, creating an imaginary choir on stage, leading to its dark, instrumental outro.

Bird still seemed to cut the jam short compared to prior years, again seeming committed to simpler performances this year.

Fan-favorite “Plasticities” followed, Bird’s guitar slightly out of tune but still performed, whereas he had abandoned it entirely shortly into the song for a violin version the night before.

The song found the singer comfortable and confident, playing with the vocal melodies, even the music shifting directions throughout. Loops of violin and whistling continued to grow until there were more than 10 total, the violinist increasing the pitch of his whistled loops to bird-like chirps, the experimental nature an always welcome change of pace.

“Pulaski At Night” closed the set, the song having practically become an anthem for his Chicago shows, and one that was initially debuted at Fourth Presbyterian years prior.

The song both demonstrated Bird’s ability to build a structured composition before the audience’s eyes and his unparalleled technical abilities on violin.

The encore returned to a simplistic folk sound, utilizing O’Connor and Hogan for background vocals.

“Give It Away” was performed with a dry humor, while Bob Dylan’s classic “Oh, Sister” was done with absolute sincerity, Bird stomping the stage audibly with his foot while singing.

Neil Young’s “Harvest,” a song performed regularly with his full band on this year’s tour, closed Thursday night’s set on a strange note, seeming to lack the conclusive vibes of the previous night’s “Weather Systems.”

If the annual Gezelligheid performances tend to indicate the state of Bird’s music of the course of a year, then 2016 found the musician with a focus on composition and lyricism, offering more straightforward performances that steered clear of lengthy improvisations and experimentation.

In some ways refreshing and in others disappointing, the concerts still provide fans with an undeniably personal show packed with beloved songs and terrific musicianship. So long as the Gezelligheid tradition remains, fans will have good reason to keep attending the sold-out shows.

Plus, who knows the directions Bird will head in next year?

Read the setlists below. 

 

Setlist 12/14/16:

1. Hole In The Ocean Floor >

2. Journey In Satehidananda  > Capsized >

3. Tenuousness

4. Are You Serious

5. Capital Crimes

6. Chemical Switches

7. Lusitania*

8. Left Handed Kisses*

9. Cathedral In The Dell (The Handsome Family cover)**

10. Green Wine (Handsome Family’s “All The Wine” to “Greensleeves” melody)**

11. Sic Of Elephants

12. Saints Preservus

13. Sifters

14. Roma Fade

15. Three White Horses (unfinished)

16. Plasticities

17. Figure Eight (Bob Dorough cover)

18. Pulaski At Night

Encore:

19. Give It Away**

20. Harvest (Neil Young cover)**

21. Weather Systems

 

* with Nora O’Connor

** with Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan

 

Setlist 12/15/16:

1. Hole In The Ocean Floor

2. Journey In Satehidananda > Capsized

3. Tenuousness

4. Are You Serious

5. Figure Eight (Bob Dorough cover)

6. Saints Preservus

7. Chemical Switches

8. Left Handed Kisses*

9. Cathedral In The Dell**

10. Something Biblical

11. Green Wine**

12. Sic Of Elphants**

13. Sifters

14. Roma Fade

15. Three White Horses

16. Plasticities

17. Pulaski At Night

Encore:

18. Give It Away**

19. Oh, Sister (Bob Dylan cover)**

20. Harvest (Neil Young cover)***

 

* with Nora O’Connor

** with Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan

***with Nora O’Connor, Kelly Hogan and opening violinist

Andrew Bird’s Gezelligheid performances at Fourth Presbyterian Church are a tradition of sorts in Chicago, ringing in the holiday season with a solo performance from the violinist as gorgeous as the intimate setting itself.

Having attended at least one of Bird’s church dates nearly every year since their inception, my expectations were both high and based on prior experiences.

Though the setlists for the first two of the three nights were similar, the shows were very different, with Wednesday’s performance marred by a number of technical difficulties and Thursday’s ironed out practically to perfection.

Because of this, my review will stick primarily to Thursday’s show.

For years, Bird has preferred opening these dates with “Hole In The Ocean Floor,” a song that sets the perfect tone for his style on violin. Bird entered the song with confidence, blending a dizzying array of loops, violin strokes, plucked strings, whistling and bells to create a dramatic instrumental before beginning to sing.

This approach underlines what makes his music and these shows such a perfect pairing, its beautiful and unique nature a point of pride in Chicago’s music scene with a genuinely warming quality in an otherwise freezing December.

In short, it’s all that longtime fans could hope for in the Gezelligheid dates.

Unfortunately, the song-driven and pop-oriented nature of Bird’s most recent album, Are You Serious, meant a decrease in such instrumental prowess for this year’s church shows.

Yet hearing the new songs in a solo scenario offered an interesting glimpse into the power and expertise behind their writer’s methods.

“Capsized,” paired with an opening instrumental “Journey In Satehidananda” both here and on his previous, full-band tour, proved to be a perfect fit, and not terribly dissimilar to the opener.

More loops appeared after the end of “Hole In The Ocean Floor,” Bird eventually using effects pedals to play recorded melodies on his bells kit backwards over dark and dissonant violin strokes, plucking strings to quickly add numerous violin melodies in higher registers.

The instrumental gave way to “Capsized,” a highlight of the new album, which allowed the audience to watch Bird recreate each element of the song, first locking in the chord progression and bass line before moving on to vocals and rocking electric solos.

Having only begun debuting these songs at these dates last December, they had a new swagger and confidence to them that indicated the musician’s pride in their existence.

“I’ve got the rhythm of this thing down now. This is kind of my version of the Vegas residency,” Bird said after, a favorite joke of his at these dates.

For “Tenuousness,” Bird recorded a dense splattering of violin loops, pacing frantically in circles, eyes on the floor, listening to each play back and adding intricate countermelodies to his liking. The vocals were transformed from the original to a less formal, Dylan-esque delivery that screamed of the musician’s dry humor.

As always, these older songs have grown and evolved along with Bird, a reminder that those from Are You Serious will surely do the same.

Bird spoke of a recent date at Carnegie Hall that Bob Dorough, a 93-year-old writer for Schoolhouse Rock, attended, and performed a humorous, math-dependent rendition of “Figure Eight” from the classic children’s show. Dramatic picking gave a serious nature to the otherwise silly song, with Bird fumbling through the lyrics on Wednesday but nailing them the following night.

A song unlikely to appear in setlists again, “Figure Eight” is a perfect example of why fans flock to the Gezelligheid dates each year.

As Bird moved across stage to a single, old-fashioned microphone, he addressed the technical difficulties of the previous night, when a radio broadcast from a neighboring high rise has been audible through the speakers throughout the show.

Flicking a switch on an unused amp, he pointed out that this “happens every year,” and that he was trying to “turn down our wattage” to avoid it becoming audible.

Fortunately, the sound problem was primarily resolved for Thursday’s show.

He told the story of writing a melody in hopes of his song being used in Django Unchained. Though the movie rejected the song, he rewrote it as a theme for Zach Galifinakis’s Baskets, though the show didn’t end up needing one. Thus, “Saints Preservus,” a song about an out-of-body experience at Costco, found its way to Are You Serious.

His performances at this microphone eliminated the ability to loop, encouraging straightforward performances that drew on his folk influences and emphasized songwriting.

Both nights, Bird called the singers from opening band The Lady Parts, Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan, back to stage to provide background vocals and an occasional acoustic guitar for a run of songs, the three standing around the single microphone, adjusting volume by moving closer to it as needed.

The Handsome Family’s “Cathedral In The Dell” proved to be a highlight of this portion, with gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies and a verse sang by Hogan. The absurdity of the songs lyrics even earned laughs from the usually silent audience.

Bird also converted The Handsome Family’s “So Much Wine,” a song that tells the tale of an alcoholic’s ruined Christmas, into a holiday song by pairing the lyrics with the melody of traditional “Greensleeves.” Humorous and original, it proved a positive addition to the set.

Bird offered a political jab before “Sic Of Elephants,” joking that it was the time to bring back a protest song, and noting that he initially wrote it after George Bush was re-elected.

“You were right – there was never reason to worry

Money made your eyesight all blurry

Making lists of pacifists – Recalcitrant poses

Can’t you see how dangerous the one you chose is?”

New songs “Sifters” and “Roma Fade” followed, Bird back to performing alone and looping.  He then performed Gezelligheid staple “Three White Horses,” but first apologized again for the previous night, when he had abandoned the song after a single verse, frustrated over tuning issues.

“This one I tried last night and I couldn’t do it. It fell apart, so I had to stop,” he said modestly and honestly. “But I’m going to try it again tonight.”

Fortunately, the song sounded fantastic, always becoming a highlight when performed. Complicated violin loops grew endlessly upward, until met by abrasive electric guitar chords and ghostly vocals. Soon, Bird was looping his vocals, creating an imaginary choir on stage, leading to its dark, instrumental outro.

Bird still seemed to cut the jam short compared to prior years, again seeming committed to simpler performances this year.

Fan-favorite “Plasticities” followed, Bird’s guitar slightly out of tune but still performed, whereas he had abandoned it entirely shortly into the song for a violin version the night before.

The song found the singer comfortable and confident, playing with the vocal melodies, even the music shifting directions throughout. Loops of violin and whistling continued to grow until there were more than 10 total, the violinist increasing the pitch of his whistled loops to bird-like chirps, the experimental nature an always welcome change of pace.

“Pulaski At Night” closed the set, the song having practically become an anthem for his Chicago shows, and one that was initially debuted at Fourth Presbyterian years prior.

The song both demonstrated Bird’s ability to build a structured composition before the audience’s eyes and his unparalleled technical abilities on violin.

The encore returned to a simplistic folk sound, utilizing O’Connor and Hogan for background vocals.

“Give It Away” was performed with a dry humor, while Bob Dylan’s classic “Oh, Sister” was done with absolute sincerity, Bird stomping the stage audibly with his foot while singing.

Neil Young’s “Harvest,” a song performed regularly with his full band on this year’s tour, closed Thursday night’s set on a strange note, seeming to lack the conclusive vibes of the previous night’s “Weather Systems.”

If the annual Gezelligheid performances tend to indicate the state of Bird’s music of the course of a year, then 2016 found the musician with a focus on composition and lyricism, offering more straightforward performances that steered clear of lengthy improvisations and experimentation.

In some ways refreshing and in others disappointing, the concerts still provide fans with an undeniably personal show packed with beloved songs and terrific musicianship. So long as the Gezelligheid tradition remains, fans will have good reason to keep attending the sold-out shows.

Plus, who knows the directions Bird will head in next year?

 

 

Setlist 12/14/16:

1. Hole In The Ocean Floor >

2. Journey In Satehidananda  > Capsized >

3. Tenuousness

4. Are You Serious

5. Capital Crimes

6. Chemical Switches

7. Lusitania*

8. Left Handed Kisses*

9. Cathedral In The Dell (The Handsome Family cover)**

10. Green Wine (Handsome Family’s “All The Wine” to “Greensleeves” melody)**

11. Sic Of Elephants

12. Saints Preservus

13. Sifters

14. Roma Fade

15. Three White Horses (unfinished)

16. Plasticities

17. Figure Eight (Bob Dorough cover)

18. Pulaski At Night

Encore:

19. Give It Away**

20. Harvest (Neil Young cover)**

21. Weather Systems

 

* with Nora O’Connor

** with Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan

 

 

Setlist 12/15/16:

1. Hole In The Ocean Floor

2. Journey In Satehidananda > Capsized

3. Tenuousness

4. Are You Serious

5. Figure Eight (Bob Dorough cover)

6. Saints Preservus

7. Chemical Switches

8. Left Handed Kisses*

9. Cathedral In The Dell**

10. Something Biblical

11. Green Wine**

12. Sic Of Elphants**

13. Sifters

14. Roma Fade

15. Three White Horses

16. Plasticities

17. Pulaski At Night

Encore:

18. Give It Away**

19. Oh, Sister (Bob Dylan cover)**

20. Harvest (Neil Young cover)***

 

* with Nora O’Connor

** with Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan

***with Nora O’Connor, Kelly Hogan and opening violinist

 

 

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