For 20 years, Andrew Bird has quietly gained respect and a growing worldwide audience though it seems a blustery bank holiday Monday in Edinburgh attracts a fraction of what he deserves.
The support for tonight’s gig is provided by Bleeding Heart Pigeons. There really is a type of pigeon called “bleeding heart” but far from being cute and tragic, this three-piece from Limerick in Ireland deliver bold-edged yet delicate lyrics accompanied by big gutsy drums, crunchy guitar and 80s inspired synth. If one of their songs finds its way onto the soundtrack of an indie film, it will haunt for a long time after the credits have rolled. They have the feel of a band that will be appreciated on vinyl as well as live, so their album Is is worth getting on that format for some serious listening.
The main man, Andrew Bird cuts a stylish, laid back figure onstage, in a crisp white shirt and black blazer, though his banter belies a more introverted character. He is best known for his plucking, looping violin, sometimes coupled with the most incredible full-lung whistling and this he uses to great effect to ease the audience into the wildly schizophrenic second number, Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left, introducing the country element by stealth.
The whole gig is like this, veering wildly from one form to another. Each song is, however, a complete novel of existential humanity, even during the straight-talking acoustic country section. The downside of the gig is that one half of the audience can’t see the acoustic bits as the band retreat behind the speaker stack and Hole in the Ocean Floor is a gaping omission to the set. Instead, the audience drift somewhat during the trip to Nowheresville that is Roma Fade. The encore is played purely for the country fans, which for some is a vast disappointment.
Despite the multi-personality feel to the set list, this is no stylised pastiche of genre; Bird remains authentic in his use of influence. This is perhaps intentional as he famously rejects attempts to be categorised or defined through other artists. So even though it’s tempting to write that his vocals soar like Jeff Buckley, his harmonies are worthy of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, his violin gallops like Arcade Fire in a dingy underground bar and slides like Stephane Grappelli through a Parisian cafe, his whistling is the eeriest since that weird theme tune to the television series Flambards and his country so bluegrass it’s smokin’ like a home-style bar-b-q, it is best left to the listener’s personal discernment to identify the references within this doctorate of a performance from a super-talented artist.