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A Bird in the Church: Chicago Musician Andrew Bird Brings His Songs to a New Atmosphere

Andrew Bird at Fourth Presbyterian Church, by Joshua Mellin
Andrew Bird at Fourth Presbyterian Church, by Joshua Mellin

Along a frozen Michigan Avenue, amongst towering skyscrapers, a Bird’s somber whistle fills a golden trimmed wood cathedral. This Bird, however, is not of the feathered flock.

Just a few years ago you may have heard him whistling down a Logan Square street, yet this year alone he’s played grandiose venues around the city, from the Civic Opera House to the Art Institute’s new Modern Wing and the 94th floor of the Hancock Observatory.

This time around, Chicago native Andrew Bird chose the Fourth Presbyterian Church to showcase his series of sold out “Gezelligheid”-themed shows. Dutch for “social cozy,” the four night home stand helped bring a calming end to a whirlwind 2009 tour to support his fourth studio album Noble Beast.

by Joshua Mellin

“What I hope to do with these shows is adapt my music completely to the atmosphere of the space and the season,” Bird said, describing how he envisioned the shows.

“I want the audience to be both lifted and comforted as we head into another cold and dark winter. I feel the space should be sacred so the audience can experience my music in a different atmosphere.”

Fourth Presbyterian Church

After injuring his ankle opening night, a grizzled Bird hobbled to the stage and took a seat underneath a giant fuzzy hat. “Man-on-hat, is there a term for that?” he asked the audience. “I’m sure there is.”

Deciding against setting up a PA system to highlight the acoustics of the cathedral walls, the shows were marked with interference from radio station WNUA, broadcast directly across the street from John Hancock’s radio antenna. Intermittently the audience could swear they heard Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Amplified by only his trademark spinning double speaker horns swirling behind him and four custom made Specimen speaker sculptures, Bird invited the audience into his cozy musical inner sanctum.

Lit by only ambient light, he presented rare gems such as a live rendition of “The Barnyard Tapes,” a track he originally recorded at his second home, a farm three hours west of the city. “It’s missing the crickets and cicadas,” he said, “but they’re out of season.”

Also featured was the rarely played “Carrion Suite,” a playful take on Sesame Street classic “I in the Sky,” and a solo version of his latest single “Fitz and the Dizzyspells.”

Known for his generally awkward stage presence, Bird managed to crack a smile. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” a visibly comfortable Bird confessed before closing the night with a somber version of Bob Dylan’s “Oh, Sister.”

As the crowd scurried back out into the frozen tundra of a mid-December Michigan Avenue, their hearts were warmed by the looping melodies that “accidently fit the season.”

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