A one-man band

. May 29, 2012.

Robb Woulfe, director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival is very happy to be able to bring Andrew Bird to open the Mainstage part of the Festival on June 18th. (The Festival’s other highly popular portion, the Top of the Park, opens the night before.) This will be Bird’s debut at the Festival. He last appeared in town two years ago, when he played at the Michigan Theater, but Woulfe has been following the musician’s career for much longer. “I’ve been a fan of Bird’s for many years, ever since he was playing with the Squirrel Nut Zippers in the 1990s,” says Woulfe. He’s seen and heard Bird grow, change and evolve considerably since those days.

Bird, who has been playing the violin since the age of four, and who earned a music degree from Northwestern, has over the years nourished himself and his fans on an enormous alphabet soup of music including blues, classical, folk, gypsy, jazz, klezmer, rock, swing, and zydeco. He’s gone from being in a variety of groups, primarily playing just his violin, to fronting his own bands, writing songs, singing, playing other instruments, and mastering sampling, looping and other electronic effects.

At the Power Center this month Bird will play solo, but the stage will be filled with instruments, and if you close your eyes, it will be easy to imagine you’re listening to a four or five piece, or even larger band. Many of his recent, truly un-categorizable songs start with him plucking pizzicato arpeggios or repeating riffs on violin. Then he steps on a pedal, the string passages continue looping, repeating, and he puts aside violin, pulls an electric guitar from behind his back and adds sustained lines and rock power chords. He begins singing, picks up a mallet and taps bell-like counter lines on the xylophone and, as the song swells and fades he might pick up the violin again and show what all those years of study were for. If all this wasn’t unique enough, there is his spectacular whistling. Let’s just say that not for nothing is his name Bird.

A few words about his lyrics. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that they’re not exactly conventional either. “I see a sea anemone/The enemy/See a sea anemone/And that’ll be the end of me.”As Bird said recently before the close of his set at the famed Bonnaroo Festival, “Please enjoy yourselves at all cost.”

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