IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Andrew Bird
By Jeff Elbel For Sun-Times Media December 4, 2013 6:24PM
Andrew Bird performs four concertsat Fourth Presbyterian Church this week. | Sun-Times Library
The Dutch word “Gezelligheid” may translate poorly into English, but the closest attempts suggest that it’s something everyone could stand to know better. Related concepts include cozy comfort and time spent with loved ones. Andrew Bird chose the term as moniker for his intimate seasonal performances, which were first held during 2009 within the sacred surroundings of the Magnificent Mile neighborhood’s elegant Fourth Presbyterian Church.
These performances have grown from special events outside of Bird’s typical mode into the jewels of his concert season. This year marks inaugural events in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but Gezelligheid still seems most appropriate when invited in from the cold on a dark night into a beautiful environment. It may wander, but if Bird’s truest expression of Gezelligheid remains in Chicago, that’s a cozy and comforting thought for his many hometown fans.
For these shows, Bird is expected to lean upon his affinity for evocative instrumental melodies and cinematic soundscapes. With little need for words, he’ll spin vivid stories with a whimsical affinity to director Wes Anderson. Bird’s violin becomes a surprisingly versatile instrument in this setting, with sweeping alto melodies pitched low by looping equipment to become a cello section. Plucked strings mimic the warmer cadence of an island steel drum band. The pure tone of Bird’s otherworldly whistling glides above it all, trailing twinkling stars in its wake.
Contributing to the environment are the special horn speakers created by local artisan Ian Schneller of Specimen Audio. With the largest rising eight feet, the speakers and their brightly painted bells resemble a combination of old-fashioned Victrola horns and enormous poppies. Within the church’s stately architecture, these suggest a scene from a gothic garden fantasy.
The wistful title track from Bird’s recently released EP, “I Want to See Pulaski at Night,” beckons a wayward companion back to Chicago. Other tracks balance instrumental pieces inspired by contemporary Ethiopian music with songs like the hymnal “Hover I.” The latter promises to fill cavernous and chilly cathedral spaces with enveloping blankets of sound.
♦ Andrew Bird’s “Gezelligheid” concerts, 8:00 p.m., Mon.-Thur., Dec. 9-12, Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St., Tickets $40-45; jamusa.com/events/andrew-bird. SPOTIFY playlist: http://spoti.fi/17YIq6A