A kids’ TV show based on a mad professor being transported to other worlds via the medium of magical socks on his hands might just be the take-home moment from Andrew Bird’s wonderful Roundhouse gig.
‘Professor Socks’ was born from an incorrect heckle that seemed to infiltrate the sub-conscience of Bird’s already fantastical mind (it was supposed to be Dr Stringz – a character he played in an episode of US programme ‘Jack’s Big Music Show’). While the tune – lying somewhere between A Mighty Wind’s ‘Old Joe’s Place’ and ‘Top Cat’ – is a few years old now, the concept of the TV show hasn’t got any further than the theme tune. Still, as Bird and his band huddle around a mic with acoustic guitars and a violin, it’s a brilliant skiffle-inspired ending to a pretty excellent night.
The four-song encore is a real treat and something completely different to the rest of the almost two-hour show. A gorgeous version of Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ drops like a bombshell just as everyone is planning their exit and sits alongside Bird classic ‘Give it Away’ and new song ‘The New St Jude’. It’s funny, it’s different, but perhaps most of all, it strips down the band’s fuller sound and shows off just how flawless they are.
Tempo trouble and heart-attack inducing amp bang aside, Bird and his band don’t play a note wrong. Bird’s voice is album perfection and his string playing effortless and exciting. He skips over those strings like his fingers aren’t even attached to his brain and holds his instrument like a guitar to pick and strum like it’s a 50’s Fender. His drummer mixes rock and jazz, bringing tantalising fills and beats across all kinds of crazy time signatures.
Bird loops his strings to create the richness and harmonies of a quartet, using the foundation to layer further guitar, vocals or his trademark whistle… the very whistle of Walter from The Muppets Movie (this fact has blown my mind!).
While the main set aims to show off Bird’s new album ‘Are You Serious’, it leaves space for bits and pieces from eight of his previous 20-something releases. Opener ‘Capsize’, a new song, introduces his distorted violin strum while the strings on ‘A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left’ sound almost Malian. ‘Tenuousness’, he says, sounds like he’s being hurled through space’ while ‘Three White Horses’ brings incredible harmonies from the full band and an ending of heavy strings – the more dramatic side of Bird’s playing. It’s brilliant.
It’s a sound he’s exploring more on new songs. A bit of Muse can be heard on the way he mixes his voice with a rockier sound and some songs lean towards bands like The Shins, or even Radiohead. Mixed with his more Jonathan Richman side, it’s a wonderful blurring that makes for a captivating show.
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Words: Gemma Hampson