Hear that?

Violinist, singer and whistler Andrew Bird a genre-bending sonic trailblazer

Union Leader Correspondent
February 28. 2018 12:56PM
Andrew got his feet wet in the river beneath the Hyperion Bridge in Los Angeles to capture some perfect acoustics for a piece in his “Echolocations” recordings. (Reuben Cox)
If you go...
WHO: Andrew Bird

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 6

WHERE: The Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St., Portsmouth

TICKETS: $36 to $59

INFO: themusichall.org; 436-2400

His trusty violin resting loosely under his chin, Andrew Bird walks along riverbanks, beneath bridges and within the canyons of Utah to find unspoiled sites that are acoustically exceptional and, like a bat’s sonar, record very specific sound ranges for his music.

“The idea is to send out sound waves in this environment, see what kind of feedback I’m getting and try to listen,” Bird said. “It’s kind of like a sonic map of the environment.”

More than a dozen albums and decades of music have taught him not to force his work into a performance center, but discover how his sound will play at every concert, in every space.

“Every time I come into a theater or a club, whatever venue it is, (with) the soundcheck I spend hours trying to, in a sense, echolocate that space and decide what songs should be played that night,” Bird said in an interview with NHWeekend Monday afternoon. “I like situations that are reactive. I don’t like bottling up my 12 songs I’ve written and forcing it on that space to promote a record.”

Bird, to play The Music Hall in Portsmouth at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, is a genre-bending trailblazer, a singer, songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist. His shows alternate between violin, guitar and the glockenspiel, and he’s a top-tier whistler.

Growing up outside Chicago in the suburb of Lake Forest, Ill., Bird was raised on classical music and early jazz. He learned the violin before starting first grade, eventually turning that skill into a performance degree from the prestigious school of music at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

“I was never a model student of classical music. I never played my scales … I resisted methods,” he said. “And I somehow managed to get through music school, but I couldn’t wait to get out.”

Bird’s self-released solo project, “Music of Hair,” highlighted his highly touted ear for instrumentals and traditional folk tunes from the British Isles.

His musical dexterity shifted to swing music during his tenure with the swing revival band Squirrel Nut Zippers in the 1990s, then to his innovative and sophisticated fusion albums with Bowl of Fire, a retro-sounding band mixing in elements of jazz, folk and other bluesy rifts that was reminiscent of New Orleans’ golden age.

After Bowl of Fire disbanded, he pivoted again, this time toward a wide-ranging indie artist on Ani Difranco’s Righteous Babe Records and later on Fat Possum Records. His sound became more exploratory, his lyrics more cultivated in albums like 2007’s “Armchair Apocrypha” and 2009’s “Noble Beast.” His sixth studio album, “Break It Yourself,” was his best charting piece.

In his “Echolocations” series, he released “Canyon” in 2015 and “River” in 2017; “Fog” will be the next album.

Outside of his albums, Bird’s music has been featured in the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” and HBO’s “The Young Pope.” “I Was an Orphan (Till You Came Along)”has appeared as the theme song to Showtime’s Golden Globe-nominated series “SMILF.”

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