In the Crowd: My Morning Jacket - Andrew Bird
In The Crowd #26/My Morning Jacket - Andrew Bird
Mississippi Nights/St. Louis
It's funny how the seating arrangements at most shows are dictated by the audience the music draws. One could almost make an argument that there is a direct correlation between the audience members' age and their distance from the stage, ranging from the rabid 14-year old who crowds the stage to get sweat dripped on him to the 58-year old who sits at the very back in order to be the first one out of the club and beat the traffic home so he can slip on his fuzzy house shoes, sip cognac, and watch Charlie Rose on PBS. Actually, lately I feel a bit closer to the second group and even found myself liking that show- the Charlie Kaufman interview was really interesting, okay? But this correlation could probably be narrowed down to a golden ratio that explains why the universe is the way it is: why grass is soft underfoot, why orange soda is actually orange in color, why people watch American Idol, etc. That ratio could very well be used for the design of grandiose things, if only someone (ahem) could harness the cryptic, heretofore intangible enigma that is "Concert Goer Behavior". Anyway, this night's audience was not an exception to the theorem: by the time I arrived, the mid-to-late-20s and early-30s crowd present had already taken up all the seats (yet another factor of the correlation which should be analyzed at another time) from the middle to the back of the club, and the floor right in front of the stage was practically vacant. Even the seats on the side by the merchandise table close to the stage were pretty empty, probably because they were too far from the bar (the list of factors grows even more). So, I ended up somewhere in between, standing near the all ages section in front of a ledge that had pitchers of free water on it- probably not a good idea at more violent shows, but it was fine this evening. So I was close to the front, but at the back of the floor area to the side- not necessarily in the kids' section and not in the fogies section, which pretty much tells you my age. Or not. The outline needs some work before I can get the grants rolling in.
This show was my first time seeing Andrew perform all by himself; I've seen him with Bowl of Fire, and I know he's done shows with just Nora O'Connor helping on vocals and guitar before, but this was just him. Well, and a couple toys: a nice delay unit, a pitch shifter or octave pedal (which made his violin sound more like a filled-out unison string ensemble), a nice semi-hollow body guitar, a glockenspiel, and Andrew's amazing whistling talents (Seriously- amazing!). Watching him take tunes and build them from the ground up, layering several parts one at a time with the delay unit until he had a full-fledged arrangement going to sing over was very interesting. From the way things sounded, one could almost argue that this was how these songs were written: in his bedroom, playing with a new delay pedal he got at a Super Spectacular Groundhog Day Sale, laying the foundation and then adding new arrangement parts, sort of setting up his own accompaniment.
Most selections where taken from his most recent release, Weather Systems, which are more stripped-down recordings (although not as stripped-down as the solo live representations this night). He closed with a very different version of 'Lull' (with less swing and more of a straight, uptempo feel- check his site for an mp3) and a great tune called 'Nervous Tick Motion of the Head To the Left' (which I found no information about online- someone please help?) that I can only hope will appear on some future release. Some other highlights included 'Why?' from The Swimming Hour, whose lyrics were presented in a more conversational fashion, oozing with Andrew's tongue-in-cheek wit. There was a new song, 'Sovay' (again, mp3 available at the Bowl of Fire site), for which My Morning Jacket came out and backed him, including acoustic guitar, drums, pedal steel, and keys. Really nice, and the crowd got more into it: not sure whether it was because they were more unfamiliar with Andrew's material to be able to follow it in a solo arrangement or because it was My Morning Jacket who were backing him, but either way it sounded great and the crowd loved it.
Andrew's definitely a class A musician. His violin playing is so tasteful, for the most part creating no more than is necessary for the tune at hand- however, every once in a while he lets loose and rips off some amazingly dextrous stuff to remind you of his instrumental prowess. His sense of melody, harmony, and knowledgable arrangements were on display in their rawest form in this set, and I very much enjoyed it. He'll be on tour in the States with The Magnetic Fields soon, so watch for dates.
This was My Morning Jacket's first show ever in St. Louis, and I'd say it was a really good welcome. The crowd was rather mellow and easy-going overall, but very warm toward the band. A scan of the audience showed only minimal movement except for two people: a girl who seemed to enjoy twisting and jumping in place and a guy who was an almost dead ringer for that one guy on Scrubs (you know, the main guy who does all the voice-over narrative) who was obviously loving every minute of it (I did it! A Loverboy reference!), exhibiting his pleasure by raising his hands in the air, rocking out with his air guitar, hanging all over his buddies and patting them on the back, and even on two separate occasions holding his phone up to the band for about 20 seconds- no doubt recording the moment to relive over and over each time he checks his voice mail for the next week or so.
Not being overly familiar with the band's music didn't put a damper on the set at all for me. This band, to me (visibly at least), embodied the band Stillwater from the flick Almost Famous: the long-haired, 70s guitar rock band wielding a live energy and singable tunes that captivate all. And holy gear hounds, Batmantis! Apart from the Fender triumverate that made brief appearances in their arsenal (a Rhodes, P-bass, and Strat), this band could very well have appeared in a Gibson advertisement. I stopped counting at 6 Gibsons: 3 Les Pauls (including a black model with a tremolo tailpiece and a gold dust finish one with P-90 pickups I believe), a Flying V, an F-holed double cutaway semi-hollowbody, and an old acoustic. In all, at least 8 guitars between the two guitarists, not including the pedal steel I was too short to see. Their guitar tech probably stayed plenty busy. But boy, I'd just like to be alone in a room with all those instruments- not that my intentions toward them would be anything other than honorable, of course. A little fondling maybe, but that's it.
The group had really good stage presence, and almost made me miss having long hair. Jim James had what looked like a dark velvet smoking jacket or blazer on, with an unnaturally stiff parrot stuck to his shoulder (I totally can't place whether there's a reference there or not, but it was pretty hilarious regardless) and a pumpkin with a face painted on it that doubled as a hat stand sitting atop his amp. Their sound was so tight, and their performances chugged on like a well-tuned machine: very much like their recorded sound on It Still Moves, even down to the washed-out reverb over Jim's voice (which was sometimes not turned off for his between-song banter, making him laugh and repeat things after it was turned off).
From the first high-hat beats of the set opener ‘One Big Holiday', the crowd's full focus was on the band. The audience actually seemed to have been waiting for this show (being their first time in town and all), and were quietly riveted the whole set. ‘Run Thru' was a highlight for me, with an even more sluggish, powerfully gargantuan feel than the recorded version. The tribal beat of the toms in the song's breakdown section invigorated the crowd, and their response was great. Jim James mentioned that earlier that day, he, his mother, and his aunt had witnessed cinematography in its grandest state: the filmstrip on the making of the St. Louis Arch. He offered his services to the crowd as an ambassador to the Arch, informing us of the dates of construction (1962-1965) and approximately how much steel was utilized (about 300 tons for those who haven't seen the filmstrip).
Upon leaving the stage before their encore, a giant inflatable cartoon ghost with a smile, a bowtie and a vest that said "BOO!" appeared center stage. The ghost seemed happy to accept the applause on behalf of the band, and stayed on stage for the duration of the encore, in which they simply rocked more tunes from the last record. Andrew came up and played violin with the band for several tunes throughout their set, although it was difficult (read: impossible) to hear him. It was really nice to see two acts that would not necessarily come to mind as similar meld together and play with each other on tour like this. I only wish more people would try this; it came as a nice surprise to the audience, and possibly even helped to cross-populate fans from both camps (i.e., "Wow, if MMJ likes Andrew Bird, maybe I should listen to him more!"). Or not. That's another study altogether.
- Eric Burnley | 2004-06-03
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