Andrew Bird is a jumble of opposites. He titled his new Fat Possum release “Nobel Beast”; he plays the violin, an instrument often associated with the conservatory, and whistles, that most homespun of talents; he uses modern sampling and looping technology, but runs the sounds through old-fashioned gramophone horns, including a pair that spins, like an ancient Leslie speaker cabinet; and at the Orpheum Theater Wednesday night, tried to turn his private and inward directed music into public performance. The result is a performance that was engaging and frustrating in equal measure.
The songs are slippery and playful, with Bird’s pleading tenor, reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, only without his haunted vulnerability, adding a doleful undertow. They flit from the meticulous, gentle Bert Jansch styled British folk of “Masterswarm,” to slinky blues of “Opposite Day” and the jazzy swing of “Tenuousness,” shifting without friction among time signatures. Bird’s whistling is impressively precise, bringing a deceptive jauntiness to “Natural Disaster,” and loneliness on “Fitz and the Dizzyspells.”
But that slipperiness extends to the lyrics–more often then not they feel like private musings, the words chosen more for the way they sound than what they mean. “Monsters?” he asks in “Fake Palindromes,” and answers “whiskey-plied voices cry fratricide.” The most emotionally resonant line came when he reminds the sold-out house that “basically, we’re all alone.”