Echo Beach in Toronto, ON
July 19, 2012
Review by: Chad Hutchings
Photos by: Allison Janzen
While Andrew Bird stole Toronto's hearts, Toronto stole his bicycle.
With Beirut playing on the other end of the city and splitting a very distinct fan-base down the center, the crowd showing up to see Andrew Bird at the west end's Echo Beach was more modest than expected. Of course, that's all relative, since well over a thousand fans took to the sunny new venue on the coolest night of the summer, some seated in the sand and some standing at stage-front to see a stunning set while the forecasted thunderstorms were somehow kept at bay.
Surprisingly, that crowd turned out to be pretty broadly-aged, with mid-teens in backpacks and braces standing alongside greying beards and receding hairlines. And, though it might sound condescending, there was something very exciting and reassuring in seeing the huge young contingent singing along with Andrew Bird and cheering when the first notes of so many intelligently written songs showed their heads.
Those songs that everyone sang along with began with Bird taking the stage alone with his violin, looping and whistling “Hole In The Ocean Floor”, bathed in cold blue tones that dominated the lighting for most of the set. Soon enough though, the artist was joined by his band, three multi-instrumentalists that proved they had every right to stand alongside the talented songwriter. Fittingly, the new wealth of instruments debuted with a song that was completely instrumental, but the set-list soon led to tracks boasting a stunning blend of vocals and instrumentals. A load of beauty lies in the kind of vocal-instrumental balances that Andrew Bird maintains in his tracks. His catalogue is bright on both ends, and his songs never boast one side of the spectrum at the cost of the other – nor do his live performances of them. Songs with strong instrumental focus (like “Desperation Breeds” from his recent LP Break It Yourself) were played as brilliantly as their studio versions, with the same intense layering and creative blends, yet the lyrics never come up short in their recordings or their live counterparts. Likewise, vocally-centered tracks like “Measuring Cups” never threatened to skimp on the elaboration of the instrumentals.
As for those vocals, Bird often gave them a different spin live. To his credit, the changes were more than welcomed, because the fundamental difference was in just how much feeling was shining through. When he performs on-stage, the artist sings like he's actually telling the stories - like he's really feeling what he's singing about. Tone of voice, expressions, tell-tale actions, and even hearty sighs weave their way into his songs (not to mention plenty of clever stutters and ticks when “Nervous Tick Motion Of The Head To The Left” made its way to the set-list). Bird doesn't just put on a solid performance – he puts on a proper show.
And that show was definitely well-received by the Echo Beach audience. While frowns abounded during his tale of having his bicycle stolen outside his downtown Hotel (it wouldn't be a proper introduction to Toronto without losing a bike or two), it would have been hard for any fan to leave the beach without a smile. The set-list was built on a fairly broad spectrum of the artist's work, ranging in pieces from his earliest albums to unreleased tracks from an upcoming recording in a blue-grass style that Bird called “old-timey”. A short burst of tracks got that old-time treatment on stage before the direction turned back to the indie rock sound that's earned Andrew Bird so much acclaim, peaking at the final numbers before the encore: “Tables And Chairs” (such a spirited rendition that I'd consider it the best performed song I've seen all year) and “Fake Palindromes” (a piece that's been one of my favourites for a very long time, coming to life this night as if the singer was feeling every ounce of exasperation and desperation contained in the words).
Andrew Bird's Toronto performance was huge in sound and huge in spirit, but his comfort and the smooth way of the show made it obvious that this wasn't a fluke; Bird is a true performer, and it was made very clear that you can expect to be overcome by the gentleman and his band on stage any night of the week.