No introduction, just a dimming of the lights, preceded Andrew Bird’s arrival on stage Monday night before the indie performer kicked off his shoes and began to play his violin — although Bird’s sock monkey did get the audience talking.
The 1995 Northwestern School of Music alum who sings, whistles and plays violin, guitar and glockenspiel has released three albums as a solo performer and three with his former band, The Bowl of Fire. He brought his multiple music talents to Pick-Staiger Concert Hall for a special performance and question-and-answer session, sponsored by A&O Productions. Bird said to the audience that the return to Northwestern was a bit disorienting.
“This is kind of strange for me,” Bird said. “It’s a trip.”
But Bird kept his sock monkey, outfitted with Converse high-tops and a pocket watch, around to lighten the mood.
“It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten on the road,” he said. “It has never trod upon the earth.”
Bird also explained the two massive and colorful gramophones that stood behind him on stage, and the looping process that creates the layered sound of his music. Bird chooses to play a 13 or 26 second musical clip, which is then looped to a gramophone that continuously plays the clip. Bird then plays with the loop so that his solo performance sounds like that of a band.
“There are six or seven layers of sound that morph into a blob of sound that you can almost visualize,” he said. “You hear the past tense of the sound. It’s right there in front of you. And you can say, ‘hmm, I need more E flat.’ It’s crazy intuitive.”
Bird said he chooses his lyrics to create the right “blob of sound,” though he does not necessarily know what the words mean when he chooses them.
“I think about when I was kid and the pop songs I would listen to in the sixth grade… I didn’t really care what Sting said,” Bird said. “Most of the words are misunderstood anyway… I tend to use more unusual words just because I try to entertain myself. I get a word in my head and I don’t know what it means, but I like it because it’s mysterious.”
In line with that liking for the mysterious, Bird said he emphasizes science in his songs in order to comment on the larger questions of society.
Although the words may be mysterious, the places that inspired some ideas for Bird’s songs would be familiar to Northwestern students. Bird said that after graduating as a violin performance major in 1995, many of his songs came from ideas he had while at Northwestern.
“I wrote the chorus [to one song] in the middle of the library stacks, outside,” he said. “I was thinking, huh, we’re all alone aren’t we? Though we are all clumped into groups.”
Bird’s relationship with his roommate in Bobb Hall served as material for another song, he said.
“[My roommate] was really pissed at me because he couldn’t get a rise out of me,” Bird said. “He would throw shit at me. He was very hostile.”
McCormick sophomore Zachary Beach said that realizing Bird went to Northwestern was itself amazing.
“I had heard him before, but he sounded amazing in Pick,” Beach said. “Before I had no idea that he was an NU alum. Now I feel like I have this connection him that I never felt before.”
Weinberg sophomore Susie Zhao said seeing Bird without his band showcased how much of his music he produces on his own.
“At home when I listen to his music, I focus more on the lyrics,” Zhao said. “But this performance showed just how much of the music is about him. It’s an entire band embodied in one man.”