Fighting off what he jokingly suggested “could be tuberculosis,” virtuoso Andrew Bird pressed on during his Feb. 2 show at the National for a solid but slim set of whimsical, whistling tunes rooted in robust classical stylings (and occasionally rocking out). If it all sounds contradictory, it sort of is -- and that's his shtick. The classically trained Bird chirps casual melodies over looped beats and the sound of whatever instrument he just put down, making for quite the “whatever will he do next?” one-man show (though this tour finds him alongside both bassist Jeremy Ylvisaker and drummer Martin Dosh).
The Birdman opened his hour-and-fifteen-minute set with a moody instrumental bathed in blue lights and bowed slides showing off the skills of his Suzuki methodology. As the handclaps of “Master Swarm“ commenced, the giant phonograph-like horns (the Janus Horn for you audiophiles) that flanked the stage began to spin and the awkwardly handsome music man tossed his wooly scarf aside, indicating that he was about to get things started. Despite the intermittent coughs for which he apologized profusely, the next hour had Bird's adoring flock oohing and ahhing as old favorites showed up amidst the latest work from “Noble Beast,” his most accessible release to date.
Though a tad more user-friendly this go round, he doesn't shy away from making use of his erudite vocabulary, which offers some amusing moments. No sooner had the poppy rhythms of “Oh No” moved the bookish-looking audience to bop their heads, did they then sing in unison the peculiar lyric, “All the calcified arhythmitists were doing the math.” Adding to the humor of the scene were the mammoth security guys on guard in case a bespectacled fan decided to go rogue and make a dash for the stage.
After losing a high-pitched note and stopping midsong to announced “I'm gonna have to fake it here,” Bird seemed to be surrendering to his battle with the bizarre, month-long ailment. A passionate rendition of “Tables & Chairs” made for one of the more memorable moments of the night before the mighty whistler admitted that he was going to need to cut the set short. “I really wish I could give you more,” said Bird. Sans boos or hisses, mass applause suggested he had done enough for the evening. He returned the favor with one last song.