Andrew Bird takes a wholly unique approach to his curiously named concerts in St. Mark's.
There was no shortage of witty questions to be asked on the way into Andrew Bird's solo concert Thursday, the Illinois indie-rocker's first of three sold-out nights at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Minneapolis.
"Where's the wine bar?" was the obvious one. "Will communion get me backstage?" "Do my Ticketmaster fees count toward the offering?" "Does the benediction come before or after the encore?"
In the end, though, the church gig was anything but a joke. Bird offered up a holy trinity of essentials for making concerts special: a cool and unique setting, a set list that's far off the beaten path, and good old-fashioned inspiration.
The three-night run was billed as Bird's Gezelligheid Concerts, the loose Dutch translation of which is "cozy." Hard church pews and a dry drink menu don't exactly scream comfort to most rock fans, but the opening night certainly did thrive on intimacy.
Throw in the fact that the whistling, violin-plucking, tape-looping singer was able to perform for 825 people without an electric PA system -- his microphones and amps were magnified by four giant, curvy megaphones, the kind you'd see on vintage gramophone players -- and the concert was steeped in a wholly unconventional spirit.
Even by Bird's quirky standards, it was a leap out of the ordinary. He filled half of his 90-minute set with instrumental tunes. His violin sang more often than he did. And, boy, did the instrument sound angelic floating through the high-ceilinged St. Mark's.
"I'm trying to resist the impulse to entertain, and just play," he said after his opening instrumental piece, heightened by about 10 electronically looped parts.
He hummed in one of the looped segments. He whistled in another. One was a xylophone part. One was of a bowed violin. Another was a plucked violin. All were concurrently, rhythmically stacked atop one another. Bird bent down to tie his shoe during all that, too, but I don't think it was for sonic effect. You never know with this guy, though.
Other instrumental songs, including "Carrion Suite" and "On Ho," were more elegant and classical in style. He rounded out the set with stripped-down versions of more standard tracks (with vocals), including "Scythian Empires" and "Natural Disaster."
Even with "the hits," Bird played around, adding bursting twists to "Why?" and interlacing "Imitosis" with an earlier version of the song called "Capital I" (based on a "Sesame Street" segment).
Two of the highlights were covers: a mountainy take on Bob Dylan's "Oh, Sister" in the encore, preceded by rootsy pickers the Handsome Family's ballad "Giant of Illinois." One of the three Twin Cities musicians who make up Bird's touring band, Happy Apple saxophonist Mike Lewis, joined him intermittently to play standup bass, sax and clarinet.
Lewis' presence served as a reminder of how different this concert was from April's gig with the full band at the Orpheum Theatre, a surprisingly rocking, stormy affair. In a year when Bird built his live act to enormous proportions, he ended it by dramatically tearing the act down and toying with his sound. Whether or not he was repenting, you could at least call it a divine intervention.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658
from the show at startribune.com/music.