Andrew Bird should play solo shows more often.
The reason for this was made abundantly clear throughout the singer-songwriter, violinist and guitarist’s hour-and-a-half set Thursday night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Because of how much Bird utilizes looping devices, the sound tends to become muddled when he performs with his quartet. But all by himself, with only his loops accompanying him, Bird was able to achieve great clarity, allowing his melodies and his lyrics to really shine through.
Of course, just being in the Music Hall, with its terrific acoustics, helped on this front. But Bird was also in fine form, hitting with early highlights “Why?” in which he seemed to be having a conversation with himself lyrically, as well as musically, with the constant looping of finger picked violin lines.
Other highlights included the bubbling “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left,” in which Bird switched deftly from rapid-fire strums on guitar to finger picking on violin. This was also one of his strongest numbers vocally, and one of the few songs where his trademark whistling added another dimension to the performance, rather than being a melodic placeholder.
When Bird eschewed the looping device entirely, he was at his best, however. A new song, “Lazy Projector,” which Bird wrote for the upcoming new Muppet movie (but which was rejected), featured just Bird’s spare guitar part and whispered vocal. The other loop-less track was also Muppet-related, a cover of “It’s Not Easy Being Green” that admirably captured the heartfelt sweetness and also the humor of the original.
Bird’s usual drummer, Martin Dosh, joined Bird for the second half of the set. While this led to some jumbled sounds — an improvised instrumental designed as the set centerpiece was largely dull — Dosh’s drumming provided an extra kick needed on such cuts as “Desperation Breeds,” another new song, this time from his upcoming album, due out in March. Equally successful were “Effigy” and especially “Fatal Shore,” with its mournful violin lines.
Main set closer “Tables and Chairs” was perhaps best of all, building to an enormous climax around Bird and Dosh’s swelling, interlocking loops.
Before Bird’s set, Dosh opened with a handful of atmospheric instrumental pieces. While moments of this could be interesting — an occasional jazzy keyboard loop or some pounding tribal rhythms — as a whole the performance didn’t feature many peaks or valleys over the course of 45 minutes.
Once the initial shock of seeing Dosh surrounded by state-of-the-art instrumental technology within this classically designed building wore off, there wasn’t much to look at either — unless you enjoy watching musicians push buttons and tinker around in a studio. But the already full house ate it up, cheering wildly after each number.
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