The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall is ideally suited to acoustic music, designed and built in the pre-electronic era. While amplification is generally a necessary component in nonorchestral presentations, it was judiciously deployed in service to the music of Andrew Bird, an artist sympathetically matched to the entirety of the room, from its architecture to its sonics.
Over the past 15 years, Bird has developed from his origins as a violinist to a songwriter and arranger straddling numerous genres, making him an entity unto himself. His early debt to swing, cabaret and folk idioms has given way to a more experimental landscape, albeit a landscape of gentle grace, sly wit and layered poetics. His ascendancy as a recording artist culminated (thus far) with 2009’s Noble Beast.
Bird played solo for the first 45 minutes of his 90-minute performance. But solo, in Bird’s case, became a trio, quartet or quintet as he created loops of his violin, allowing him to bow it, while parts he’d strummed like a guitar played underneath. Add to that an actual guitar, some glockenspiel, whistling and his singing voice and he’s a robust ensemble. His singing has a natural resonance that belies the real command he utilizes, sounding at times like a less-rococo Rufus Wainwright. With the acoustic bearing of his instruments so well suited to the venue, he was clearly taking delight in how the sounds from the stage played out into the hall.
He was joined by Dosh for the rest of the set. Among the five songs they played together, they included a new one, “Desperation Breathes,” as well as embarking on an improvisation piece. While Dosh’s drums and rhythmic foundation added an exciting wallop, it also allowed Bird to be part of arrangements with someone outside of himself. He returned for an encore alone—truly alone. He stood off to stage left with a solitary microphone, no pedals, nothing but him and his violin. He stepped into a more timeless dimension, playing a couple of covers that were from opposite ends of the 20th century, but sounded like they could’ve been from the 19th. One was by the veritable source point of Delta blues, Charlie Patton. The other by Bird’s contemporaries (and erstwhile fellow Chicagoans) the Handsome Family, whom he’s covered before. I, for one, would be glad to hear an entire album of him playing their songs (a sort of update of the Nilsson Sings Newman idea).
Dosh (AKA Martin Dosh) played a 30-minute opening set. Using loops, samples, drums and keyboards, his structures were less songlike, in that there was little chordal narrative, rather layerings of beats and short melodic phrases. This created pieces that were part ambient, part cerebral grooves, without being completely either one—and that’s a fine thing indeed. From a music-box funhouse to shoveling into the earth and patterns of falling rain overlaid with city traffic: All of these scenarios came to mind.