Performing with passion and wit, Andrew Bird brought his signature swing-folk sound to the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion.

9/21/19 – Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion

Andrew Bird performs with a glass of white wine on stage. Andrew Bird also plays the violin with such intensity that, by the end of his set last Saturday at the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, several broken strings dangled from his bow, swinging wildly through the stage’s rich blue lighting. 

Such extremes of passion and chill have defined Bird’s music career. You can see them in his new album before even opening the box. The project’s cover alludes to Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Marat, while its title—My Finest Work Yet—deflates the effect, saving it from pretentiousness. The set-dressing of Bird’s show last Saturday was as playful and clever as that of the album he was promoting. Bird and his bandmates wore sleek cocktail attire—a theatrical, retro look against the backdrop of a spinning gramophone and a stylized, minimal projection of a city. 

On a warm night, when the breeze blows off Boston Harbor, the Rockland Trust Bank pavilion is a truly lovely space. In this open-air venue, even Bird’s epic solos and polished staging could not avoid feeling warm and homey. The opener—a collaboration between singer-songwriter Iron and Wine and Tex-Mex folk group Calexico—helped create this comfortable atmosphere with its brassy, soulful ballads. Several of their mariachi-influenced songs stretched into long jam sessions, featuring solos on the trumpet, accordion, and upright bass. 

Throughout the night, Bird played a mix of new songs and old favorites. The crowd swayed when Bird played “Sisyphus”—a relaxed, existential jam that begins My Finest Work Yet. When he played “Olympians,” another track from the new album, the audience watched in awe as Bird live-looped three separate violin and vocal tracks, building a tight, layered sound that could’ve passed for studio produced. After pausing to endorse the worldwide climate strike in a brief monologue, Bird shifted to pieces from his more ornate and experimental earlier work. The final song before the encore was “Capsized,” the past iterations of which Bird documented in a ten-track 2016 album.

Toward the end of the set, Bird used the intimacy of the evening to his advantage. The highlight of the concert came when Bird and his bandmates switched their electric instruments for acoustic ones and huddled around a retro, silver microphone to the side of the stage. The lights dimmed, a soft spotlight turned on, and the five bandmates sang a series of tender, harmonized ballads, including an exceptionally cute rendition of the duet “Left Handed Kisses.” Eventually, Bird gave up the microphone completely to his guitarist, Madison Cunningham, who sang an operatic and frisson-inducing original song.

Notably missing from the set were most of Bird’s biggest hits, including “Pulaski at Night” and “Are You Serious.” In a strange way, though, this omission felt exactly right. Nobody comes to an Andrew Bird show expecting to get exactly what they expect. They come for music played with a wink and a grin—smart, yet sly and humble. And that’s what they got last Saturday.         

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