Was there anyone stranger to place in the Forecastle line-up slot immediately preceding My Morning Jacket than Andrew Bird? The distinctive multi-instrumentalist from Chicago has been working the indie circuit for years now – sixteen, to be exact – and has managed to remain wholly unlike any other artist, those signed to major record labels or otherwise, throughout his career. One has to be in an “Andrew Bird mood” to listen to Andrew Bird. And so on Saturday, when he and three other band mates took the Mast Stage two hours before the biggest act of the weekend blew in, his crisp, clean, lilting brand of music transported the audience to a quiet place it never expected to go.
Bearing his signature violin and grabbing eyes and ears with a well-whistled melody, Bird opened his seventeen-song set with “Dark Matter,” initializing a stream of musical consciousness that failed to hit a speed bump until the very end of the show. The other members of his quartet looked on serenely, keeping the pulse of the concerto bumping as Bird breezed through “Unknown Instrumental” and the more well-known “Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left,” switching flawlessly among instruments and experimenting with looping pedals (and adding tics of his own to his performance). “Desperation Breeds,” from Bird’s latest album Break It Yourself, was one of many intensely complex moments that were almost too beautiful and multifaceted to appreciate with Forecastle’s other noisy acts thumping in the background. “Give it Away” and “Effigy” employed truly hypnotizing harmonies and a skipping underbeat of plucking violin strings followed by classical riffs. The continuous movement of music flowed on – “Orpheo Looks Back” spun into “Dear Dirty” into “The Crown Salesman” – against the backdrop of a gorgeous July sunset, Bird’s whistling acting as a leitmotif, drawing each of the pieces together seamlessly. “Eyeoneye” and “Dance Caribe” both acted to vitalize the intently receptive audience with their unearthly instrumentals. The echo of “precious territory” in “Plasticities” bathed the waterfront in a rhythmic soundscape. And all the while, Bird, the veteran showman that he is, annunciated each elaborately conceived arrangement with his own style, gesturing to the music with complete authenticity in a manner that suggests how invested he is in every single note.
As the MMJ crowd began to descend near the end of the set, it became apparent how intimate this space Bird had created truly was. The crowd favorite “Fake Palindromes” rippled the energy ever so slightly before an encore of “Weather Systems,” but the spell was near to breaking. Andrew Bird, the quiet architect, folded up his melodies, packed up his spinning phonograph, and thanked Forecastle – a “proper festival,” in his own words – for inviting him to stage his delicate sideshow at a carnival that may not have deserved him.