Andrew Bird’s (relatively) rare Florida performance at House of Blues

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Andrew Bird, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Dropped by Robert Miller
Photos by James Dechert

About four years ago I was living in Oklahoma and Andrew Bird came through Tulsa. To me, this was a blue moon type of deal, because as far as I’m concerned or know, Bird rarely comes to my home state of Florida, so I counted my blessings, but sadly missed the show. A spring break trip to South Padre, Texas was calling to me and I missed what I thought may have been one of my few—if not only—opprotunities to catch The Bird’s whistlin’, folk-influenced indie rock test of experimentation. Now, four years and two albums later I was able to redeem myself at Orlando House of Blues in a (relatively) rare Florida performance.

Here We Go Magic started off the night with a pretty straightforward set. Compared to seeing M83 at HoB last time, it was quite different. There was no special light show, no fog machines, no frills whatsoever. It was just the band playing their songs, end of story.

Here We Go Magic, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues
Lead singer of Here We Go Magic, Luke Temple

In the beginning, it didn’t really seem like the band wanted to be there. Maybe he was having a bad day, but the lead singer seemed genuinely disinterested about being in front of us in the first place. But as the set rolled on and songs like “I Believe in Action” harnessed a noodly disco-type dance vibe to it, everything else seemed to pick up as well. That’s the beauty of music, I guess. The drummer used a stripped-down punk-like kit with nothing but a bass, snare and one tom while the guitarist/keyboardist even utilized a vocoder for a futuristic ballad, very akin to some early OK Computer Radiohead. Martin Dosh, one of the staple drummers for Andrew Bird’s outfit, joined them on stage at one point for a spirited song of dual drumming. One of the highlights of their set for me was a particular song that ended on a fast, visceral post-punk type finish with every guitar strumming itself into oblivion. But that post-punk vibe lead straight into “Collector,” a dance-friendly pop song with the repetitious “I’ve got a mild fascination” refrain that elicited cheers, jumping and dancing from the audience. It all took a bit, but HoB warmed up to this fusion band, as they blended indie rock, disco and post-punk for a somewhat confusing but ultimately rewarding set.

It’s tough to open for a guy who gets roaring applause just for whistling, though, and that’s exactly what happened. Andrew Bird assumed the stage with minimal lighting, sans fan fare. The crowd cheered; he took his bow to the violin, gliding it along like he was caressing hair; the crowd cheered more; then he whistled the intro to “Why?”, and House of Blues trembled.

Andrew Bird, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues
Andrew Bird on stage at House of Blues

I was shocked to hear him start off the set with “Why?”, a haunting song from his 2001 album, The Swimming Hour. There are quite a few live videos of him playing “Why?” at more recent concerts, so it seems as if the song is still considered a fan favorite after all these years, but to not start his set with—say—the “Eye on Eye” single from the new Break It Yourself album was quite a risky move. And if there’s one thing I learned about Andrew Bird after this Orlando show, it’s that he’s not afraid of risk.

Bird’s not afraid to stray from the expected path or alter fan’s preconceptions of a song in a live setting; in fact, he relishes it. Throughout most of the set, Bird playfully improvised the lyrics, mixed words around entirely, stretched octaves above the studio-recorded versions and bantered with the audience mid song. Many performances I’ve seen (even from musicians I adore) can easily dry out with their drag-and-drop quality, like the band uploaded their album from iTunes directly into our ears. Bird, on the other hand, enjoyed playing his music just as much as we enjoyed listening, fiddling with every intricacy and never becoming a slave to the manufactured quality of a best-selling album.

Andrew Bird, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues
Drummer Martin Dosh on stage with Andrew Bird

Mysterious Production of Eggs cut “A Nervous Tic” was the follow-up to “Why?” (another older track), and it’s also where the full band joined Bird on stage, including Martin Dosh, Bird’s experimental fellow-looping drummer. From there, Bird and Co. dipped into the newer territory with the Caribbean-styled “Danse Caribe,” the touching Noble Beast folk track “Effigy,” and the sweeping “Orpheo Looks Back.” About halfway through the performance, the stage lights went emerald and Bird played his recent cover of “Bein’ Green,” Kermit the Frog’s beloved swamp log-floating toe tapper. It’s a bit pat and cute, but if Bird was going to cover any song from the Muppet repetoire, “Bein’ Green” was the perfect choice and his love for strings melds beautifully with the song. The whole band came to the front stage right and gathered around an old-school microphone for a semi “unplugged” segment of the night with “Give It Away,” a swaying folk song that nearly breached into a hoe-down moment. The crowd enthusiastically bobbed, swayed, jumped and danced along.

At some point in the night, after the roar of applause from the end of a song died down, Bird mentioned that it was the last show they were playing in Florida. He noted that the scene down here was much different than he expected it to be. There was a “palpable enthusiasm,” he said, and he assured us (jokingly) that he would let the rest of the world know. Sadly, there’s a lot of truth to that joke. Here at The Dropp, one of our goals is to be a driving force in the independent music industry to show that our peninsula is more than just a pit stop for touring bands or a hot spot for spring break trips. Florida tends to be a melting pot of culture and art with families coming here from all over the country and world, and together, there really is a palpable enthusiasm and we’re very thankful that someone who’s been in the business as long as Bird was able to feel that. Then again, maybe that’s just the humidity getting to his Northern head.

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Check out more photos from the night below:

Andrew Bird:

Andrew Bird, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues
A poster made specially for the Orlando, Florida performance at House of Blues

Andrew Bird, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Andrew Bird, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Andrew Bird, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Andrew Bird, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Andrew Bird, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Andrew Bird, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Here We Go Magic:

Here We Go Magic, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Here We Go Magic, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Here We Go Magic, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Here We Go Magic, Orlando, Florida, House of Blues

Mon Oct 15

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