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      Andrew Bird charms crowd with musicianship, melody and humor

      Elizabeth Fox

      Issue date: 4/10/09 Section: Focus
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      With its romantic décor, mesmerizing lights, and arresting acoustics, the Allen Theatre in downtown Cleveland's theater district is a venue in its own world, seemingly detached from the bustling city outside its walls. Its elegant and inviting atmosphere lets audiences know that they're in for an impressive and captivating act, no matter the performer, and Andrew Bird's performance on April 2nd was more than par for the course - in fact, it surpassed expectations.

      The opening act, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, seemed to be an overwhelmingly appropriate companion to Bird's folk aesthetic. Hailing from New Mexico and comprised primarily of Jeremy Barnes (a mustached accordion player and former percussionist for indie rock legends Neutral Milk Hotel) and violinist Heather Troust, they charmed the crowd with their blend of gypsy folk and elemental jazz. The songs were predominantly instrumental, but when vocals were broken out, Barnes' vocal stylings varied between those of John Linnell and Brian Viglione, and the latter distinction helped give a Dresden Dolls to the group. Overall, it was a very nice set, but it was merely a sample of what the night truly entailed - as if the large, folksy phonograph speakers placed on-stage for Bird's performance hadn't said enough.

      At nine o'clock, Bird took the stage with recognizable confidence and a cheeky smile. As he immersed himself in a seemingly Celtic violin solo and his fingers plucked vicariously at the strings, the crowd dropped its guard and became immediately hypnotized by his solitary, on-stage persona. He later brought out a backing band and made an effortless segway into "Masterswarm." Songs that followed included "Fitz and the Dizzyspells," a highly energetic track from his latest album, January's Noble Beast and "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left," during which Bird decided to replicate the eponymous action in a comical way.

      Between songs, he entertained the crowd with small anecdotes, notably one story about an angry tourist in Canada who had allegedly been awakened by Bird during the night and slid a messy, slightly disturbing Post-It under the musician's door as a means of complaint. Several audience members also managed to scream out requests (one individual even managed to scream "Freebird"), to which Bird humorously replied, "I've already decided what we're going to play; we're not involving a committee here."

      After performing what was supposed to be his last song, Bird and his band waved a solemn farewell to the crowd, only to come back for a two-song encore. He ignited the audience by playing the well-known "Plasticities," which energized some so much that they started to partake in shameless dancing. This continued and ended with "Tables and Chairs," during which Bird also requested a simple and subtle sing-a-long. By the end of the night, concertgoers' standards were obviously surpassed as they stood for a near five-minute long ovation.
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