Review: Andrew Bird at The Rio in Santa Cruz

Andrew Bird returned to the bay area this past weekend for two sold out shows at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz. It’s been 10 years since he played Santa Cruz, and he seemed blissfuly happy to be back. I was fortunate enough to see him perform both nights. Both performances were wonderful, but for me, Friday night has that special something that will etch it in my memory for years to come.

Simone White, a beautiful chantress with Dylanesque curls and perfect diction opened for Bird. She seemed to have an old soul, and several of her melancolly songs were haunting melodies about older women. I didn’t pick up a CD at the show, and now I’m wishing that I had.

Bird opened with at track from Useless Creatures. He then played “Why,” a fierce note to his college roommate. At the end of the song, Bird said that he’s played “Why” at every show for the past 10 years. He explained it’s a way for him to get everything out of his system and to stretch out.

The evening was full of interesting stretching. “Natural Disaster,” and Imatosis, both off of Bird’s last album, Noble Beast, were played in an elongated improvised versions making them feel more like improvised songs from Useless Creatures.

Bird also treated us to four new songs that he’d just finished mixing in LA.. Early versions of these new songs have been performed in various states over the past year, but last weekend’s versions felt much more polished and complete. “Lazy Projectors” is a song about selective memory. The chorus repeats, “Is it written in your marrow?” “Breeding Desperation” is a new song about the declining bee population. Before launching into the song, Bird giddily describes the video he’s been imagining for the song, where he acts as a beekeeper in a room full of his custom-designed speakers, and comedian Zach Galifianakis acts as the lead bee. “Breeding Desperation” is a great conceptual track. He restarted the new tunes, apologizing and explaining the initial loop was just a bit too fast. It’s got to be difficult to get all those loops just so.

I love small shows like this, because there’s always more banter. He told us after playing Masterfade, that during tonight’s performace, he was thinking back to being at his grandmother’s house. She had a Mah Jongg game and inside were dozens of newspaper clippings with strategy tips for playing the game. One of these advised to lay on the ground, imagining a large inverted compas and determine wich way the eastern wind would blow. Now the Masterswarm lyrics, “in the sky/who the hell can remember/which way the east wind blows/when your lying on the ground/staring up at that inverted compass?/I mean, Christ, who Knows?” have so much more depth and meaning for me.e

We also heard two more new songs, “Lucitania”, and “Dos Sceebe.” I’m sure I have the spelling on that last one wrong. There were also two Bob Dylan Covers. Simone White accompanied him to the heart-wrenching “Lucitania” and Dylan’s “Oh Sister” He closed with Weather Systems. It was truly a magical evening.