the state

– of whistling. (andrew bird @ 9:30) by vastate
Wednesday, 4 February 2009, 14:33
Filed under: -of jhumphrey, -of sound

i should let johan write this review.  he’s a kinder, gentler, soul.

maybe he’ll write a bit more later, but i wanted to tell andrew bird a few things:


1.) you whistle very nicely.

2.) you whistle a lot.

3.) you whistle too much.

so, this guy is a genius.  incredibly talented.  we listen to armchair apocrypha a lot around here.  and “measuring cups” is (happily) partly responsible for johan’s foray into being a grad-school drop out.



we left the concert early. (gulp.)

my theory is that andrew has sadly fallen into that weird thing musicians sometimes do where they are wildly successful on a breakthrough album, are written up in a million different rave reviews, attract the obsession of thousands of little skinny hipsters, and then become a dumb combination of paranoid and proud.

a group of girlies at the show last night yelled (in impressive unison) “fiery crash!” “fiery crash!”.  andrew wouldn’t oblige, stating “that one’s been off the rotation for awhile now.  we just can’t stomach it.”  and continued to go on and on and on and on with all new material (with the exception of a lovely, thankfully energetic, “plasticities”).

now – i often get in trouble for arguing this stance with the many musicians with whom i surround myself – i believe that andrew bird should have happily forced himself to play “fiery crash” for those girls last night.

see, this guy kind of agrees with me:

A lot of the show blended together for me, as I’m not as familiar with the individual songs on the last two albums as I am with those on Mysterious Production of Eggs. He only played one song from that, my favorite of his albums, “Fake Palindromes,” and I wish he’d just not bothered, because his rendition last night was annoying. He pulled the “I’m-gonna-change-every-single-note-of-this-song” trick, making it impossible to even recognize except for the sweeping violin riff. My favorite song he played was the first encore, one that I think is not on any of his albums (called “Why? / Somedays” on the setlist), but I’m not sure. He went super-bluesy with it, and it worked well. I think he was trying to act like a drunk. He should do that more.

andrew should have indulged us a bit more.  even if he had to go purge in self-disgust post-show.  i mean, come on, dude.  these people love you.  they are the reason you are rich and famous.  they adore your bourgeois harvard vocabulary and your spinning gramophone bells.  you choose to play a gazillion shows for these fans.  you can cut the musical masturbation for a few songs to prevent your public from getting bored, disillusioned, and leaving (like we did).


andrew bird’s genre of musical masturbation is quite lovely and much more enjoyable and accomplished than say, phish, but the whole show seemed to be much more for his own pleasure than for the crowd’s.  like he was trying to prove a point.  which makes me grumpy and slightly bitchy.

there has to be a balance.  i wouldn’t want to see an artist that plays only old, crowd-pleasing, favorites at the expense of his/her own artistic creativity and enjoyment  (one of the reasons i won’t be purchasing bruce springsteen tickets for the show at john paul jones in may and why i am constantly waiting for patti smith to tour nearby again).

brucespringsteen1 +    pattismith

but andrew seemed to be enjoying himself quite a lot.  at the expense of his band and his fans. his drummer seemed perpetually disturbed and his bassist was a grumpy clapper.  it appeared that andrew had them all tightly reigned in.  maybe if he’d let the band join in the fun, things would be more electric.


and we wouldn’t have left early.  (and we weren’t the only ones…)

for now, i will put the concert behind us and happily listen to andrew and his beloved whistle loops on our new copy of noble beast, which plan 9 kindly special-ordered on vinyl for us.



15 Comments so far
Leave a comment

It’s absurd to call it musical masturbation when an artist plays fully formed songs. You treat the M-word like he was just making shit up. The songs are new and they are improvised on as much as the old songs. How does that make his set list self-serving? It’s one thing to say you don’t like the new songs or you want to hear what you can hear by pressing play on your ipod. But don’t denigrate his generosity in the process. That’s a separate issue. He played an hour and a half at full force and did it extraordinarily well. What more could he have done? Jeez…

Comment by Patty

i’m afraid i’ve got to back jill up on this one. she’s got great musical taste, but i usually drag her through marathon sets and encores by my songster crushes.
i have more love for, & history w/ mr. bird than she does, but that also means she isn’t going to judge his set of new music harshly, since it’s all new to her…

andrew masturbated for over an hour and a half in front of hundreds of innocent people–i was moved by his intro, and i was riled by his mid-set plasticities performance (as was his band, vs. their usual reserved/pained affect). i really want to love the man & think his immense talent is awe-inspiring. but he seems to have taken his prominence as a sign to step back from accessibility & release, and favor this irony-laden, whistle-heavy, long-playing art gallery work. it’s interesting and worth a listen, but it falls short of a rock show. it disrespects his audience and keeps his well-heeled band in check.
when he says “we’ll fight, we’ll fight for your music halls & dying cities; they’ll fight, they’ll fight for your neural walls & plasticities,” i’m fist-pumping w/ him all the way. ¡but he’s not fighting! –he’s losing himself in the auto-erotic twists and turns of his lyrical & melodic vocabularies, & i don’t (usually) want to pay to watch someone pleasure himself.

but, now, if he puts out a new ep w/ “privateers” i’ll run down to the record shop & happily throw down my cash.guess i already did…

Comment by jgrimsrud

I’m sorry you wasted your time and money Tuesday night (but we loved the chance to be with Elias). No need to bash the Boss though.

Comment by Boss

totally has me conflicted about whether to go see him again in tucson…first time was amazing. undeniably so…but i tend to try and spread out my concert love and avoid repeats too much too fast. personally i dislike fans that scream repeatedly for one song over and over AND artists that only play from their new albums or crazy weird renditions of old songs with equal passion. anyways, i like your blog a whole lot. come to tucson sometime and we will get beers and watch the sun burn the desert down.

Comment by mateolowen

i deserve the springsteen call-out. point taken. (and i wouldn’t say it was a total waste of time and money. i did feel like it was a good chance to make a point about performance art…)

Comment by vastate

i’m almost on the plane. tucson is lovely indeed…particularly with friends, beer, and sunsets.

Comment by vastate

in regards to the original comment from patty – i didn’t feel that andrew bird was very generous at all this particular show – that was my entire point.

i also firmly believe that art does not have to be generous in order to be art.

so i’m not degrading his importance, talent, or inspiration as an artist. only his generosity as a performer. who makes loads of cash off of his fans and should maybe put out a bit more in return. my awe for the songs isn’t going to allow me to forgive all ego-centric performance flaws.

Comment by vastate

vastate, your point is well taken. But I may not have made myself clear. I think you miss where his generosity lies. It’s not just that he played a long time. But making something new especially for that audience at that point in time is enormously generous. You describe him and his band as though they were just going through the motions, when in fact they were doing just the opposite. Playing the hits to order would be monotonous–for me, as well as for the band. The band looks the way they do probably because they are concentrating. If you knew the amount of concentration and effort it takes to build that sound and then manipulate it freely (improvise and elaborate on it), you’d be hard pressed to deny the generosity by saying the effort wasn’t there in the performance. He took chances and succeeded, from what I could tell. People were generally blown away by the show. Leaving early was a mistake, too, since he played two old “hits” in the encore. Also, I guess I think it’s more egocentric to dwell in what’s sure to pay off than to try something new. That’s where we differ, maybe. Someone who makes a load of cash off of their fans by giving them what they already have–rote performances of the albums and the songs they expect to hear–that’s my idea of a lack of generosity. It’s probably only a certain temperament that separates our opinions of the show, rather than something Andrew Bird did or didn’t do.

Comment by Patty

the show reminded me of something. it felt like playing a trivia game where you don’t know any of the answers because the questions are too hard. it’s no longer fun. sure, it’s great to learn new facts, but it’s also supposed to be a game.

i agree with almost all of your points about artists trying new things, mprovising, and allowing an audience to play a part in the development of something new and exciting – an organic process. that is indeed fantastic and something well worth my money – particularly when the artist is so incredibly talented. agreed.

you challenged me to go back and think about the show in a new way – so i did -, but i still come back to the question of why, overall, was i was bored? why did everything seem to run together? i felt exhilarated with his first moments on stage. the build up. the loops. the intricacy.

and then, he seemed to loose himself in it. and not in an enticing way. and then he lost me. not for good, but for the show.

i also have a huge personal pet peeve about artists making comments regarding past hits which seem to degrade the taste of the fans who are requesting a particular song. which is something i felt he did.

so, i guess it was in the personal inclination arena that we diverge. i was not as engaged or thankful for mr. bird’s particular version of organic musical process as you were. perhaps you have more history with his music. perhaps you had a better view. perhaps you have particular musical experience that allows you a degree of empathy for his efforts that i do not. maybe we just have different tastes.

but, we agree that, in theory, an artist using performance as a way to create rather than simply entertain is both generous and exciting.

do you concur?

Comment by vastate

There seems to be quite a few words above for something that comes down to whether you listened enough to the new album before the concert. There wasn’t a whole lot of divergence between how the sounded in person and on the record. Granted, you can differ whether an artist should play new songs or old (and yes, there really are even fans who prefer to hear the new), but how that has anything to do with allusions to pleasuring oneself is not entirely clear.

Comment by Chris

to me, this has little/nothing to do w/ new songs and the new album, in the sense of “do i like the new songs as much as the hits,” etc.
andrew bird isn’t the eagles–he can’t play old songs that have been overplayed on the radio, since he doesn’t have any (also, i’d downloaded the album from emusic & picked up the vinyl at my local record store before the concert).

i’m talking about his own artistic identity: is he going to “fight” for music and the people like he says, or is he going to get totally absorbed in his own multi-syllabic, irony-laden stylizations. in other words, does he want to step in front of big crowds and do something w/ the communal energy, or is he just going to jerk it.

i still say he’s a fine musician whose work i’ll keep on keeping track of. but i thought that he and his band would be willing to step out of themselves and step up.

if anyone wants to continue w/ this stuff, sound opinions did a feature review of “noble beast”, which at the time made me defensive of mr. bird, but now i see what they meant. and, in terms of violin-based rock that has soul, i’m sticking w/ the dirty three.

Comment by jgrimsrud

I think I see what you’re saying, but to be honest, I don’t really care about communal energy when I go to a concert. I’m simply looking to see an artist perform music that I enjoy at the top of his or her game.

I do have to say, though, regarding “Fiery Crash”, I didn’t find him particularly rude to not indulge the screamers. If he was this self-absorbed artist, he would not have even acknowledged them, which he did and tried to be polite about it. Maybe I don’t go to the right concerts, but I’ve never been to one where the band suddenly changed their set list just because someone yelled to play some particular song.

Comment by Chris

BTW, you would have realized you didn’t need that EP with “The Privateers” on it if you had listened to “Noble Beast” a bit more. 😉

Comment by Chris

right–i crossed it out when i realized my mistake…
is that the song he described as a rewrite of an older song, or was that a different one?

Comment by vastate

[…] in the spirit of reconciliation, i’m going to post an andrew bird video too (that i like because, showing his dangerous […]

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