Andrew Bird at Echo Beach; Thursday July 17, 2012

The first time I saw Andrew Bird it was fall of 2007, just shortly after his lush album Armchair Apocrypha was released earlier that year. It was one of my first solo jaunts as a true resident of Toronto, I was in the good company of Plato’s Republic, for which I was reading for a political theory course at the university. I remember sitting at the side of the stage trying to sneak glances at the book, each time the coloured concert lights would swirl around the building.

For some reason Bird never attracts the crowds that I truly think he should. I feel as though I meet more and more people that are in awe of what he does rather than be a true fan of the masterpieces he releases every few years. If you’re unaware of the works of Andrew Bird, his act is so stunning because he sings, plays violin and whistles. Bird was musically trained in the Suzuki method, which starts children off by learning music by ear over reading music. Later down the road Bird graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in violin performance. Listening to Bird both recorded and live very clearly suggests that Bird is by no means lacking in the talent department, he is incontestably a brilliant musician.

I decided to go to this show pretty last minute because of my wryness towards the new Toronto venue Echo Beach. In April of this year, I watched his performance at Coachella through the live stream and I found myself completely in awe of his late day set. He did an absolutely dazzling cover of The Muppets’ “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” It was after viewing that performance that I purchased a copy of the near-perfect album Break It Yourself. However with a bit of free time and a lot of love for his new album, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see him bring this album to life.

I arrived in a huff part way through Bird’s set due to the confusing layout of the venue. It was just before 9pm and I had the absolute pleasure of seeing an orange sky on the Toronto’s skyline. The Ontario Place website is correct in claiming that there really is a “spectacular view of the downtown Toronto skyline.” A view you rarely get to see in focus and not zooming down the Gardiner Expressway.

Echo Beach, according to the Ontario Place website is a “fully-licensed outdoor beach concert venue.” The venues essentially an oversized adult sandbox fit for 5,000 people. Nothing about it suggests beach, or the exotic summer lifestyle that it tries to emulate. However as the little sister to the Molson Amphitheatre, it really is a stunning, small contribution to the concert life of Toronto. I am the first to welcome small-ish venues to divert medium-popular bands from playing the horrid Sound Academy.

Bird’s sound is hard to peg down as he started as a classically trained musician and moved towards more jazzy sounds, while his more recent albums boast a lush pop sound. At this gig, Bird and company unveiled a bluegrass-folk sound that he first eased the audience in with a performance of the tune “Lusitania.” The tune which is from his most recent release Break It Yourself was recording in studio with the ever lovely Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent). It’s an odd spot for her in a tune because it’s so unlike her own music. It’s the lovely laid back stuff you’d picture a gal like her performing. For his live performance, Bird sung the vocal parts all himself. I recently learned that while this song just only recently appeared on his new album, he’s been playing the tune live for a few years.

Nearly pushing forty, Bird looked as dapper as he did five years back. At the beginning of the gig he made a few remarks about how awful his day was. Eventually loosening up, he told the crowd that he had his bike stolen from his hotel in Toronto earlier that day. Very sombrely, he told the audience that things are looking up.

I’m not sure how I will receive his new bluegrass sound, I sure find myself at home with his warm pop tunes, both live and studio.

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