For a small college town in the Midwest, Columbia draws its fair share of big-name musicians. Scanning the list of upcoming shows at the Blue Note is enough to get your toes tapping in anticipation. On Wednesday, September 30, one of these acts du jour, Andrew Bird, flies into our humble hamlet to showcase his mastery of an eclectic range of instruments. As a fairly recent transplant to Columbia by way of Chicago, I have to support a former hometown son. Andrew Bird is a Chicagoan with an amazing talent for whistling—yes, you read me right, whistling. How many artists can successfully pair a robust whistle with a rockin’ glockenspiel? Andrew Bird does just that, when he’s not also plucking a violin, guitar, and mandolin.
(Listen to that whistle!)
Best of all, Bird spends half his time roosting on a small farm in Elizabeth, Illinois . Having driven through Elizabeth myself, I can wholeheartedly endorse the refreshing and stimulating country air. In fact, Elizabeth is famous for its observation tower, which provides views of the countryside for miles around. It’s not likely Bird ever perches atop this aerie, whistling and strumming his mandolin, but I like to picture it in my head.
Bird says that growing up, he was attracted to Irish and Scottish folk music, and this shows in both his choice of living abode—the hills around Elizabeth could reasonably be called the highlands of Illinois--and his preference for bluegrass. But his music is much more indie than Appalachian, and it continues to defy categorization. If you ever listened to the Squirrel Nut Zippers during the 90s swing heyday, it’s likely you heard Bird. He collaborated on three of the Zippers’ albums. He was also a member of the Chicago jazz ensemble Kevin O'Donnells Quality Six and began his alternative music career as band leader of Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire. The band went up in flames, but Bird’s solo career is still flying strong.
(The squishy man-octopus love story is part of the film Mermaid, directed and animated by Lisa Barcy.)
The September 30 show promises to be a feast for the ears. Columbia proudly boasts of many fine bluegrass musicians, so Bird should feel right at home.
And what about the opening act? Like Andrew Bird, St. Vincent (real name Annie Clark) is also a multi-instrument-wrangling singer-songwriter. She’s a former member of The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ touring band. Expect to see lots of Regina Spektor and Feist fans in the crowd.
(Listen to that voice... sigh. I have to confess I'm a sucker for the acoustic version. Is it just me, or does this sound like it comes from a kittenish 1950s musical? If I didn't know better, I'd expect to see St. Vincent in black tights and liquid eyeliner.)