Billed as “an intimate evening with Andrew Bird,” Wednesday night’s performance found the eclectic, violin-wielding troubadour playing to his strengths — casually improvising and reconfiguring his material with humor and exquisite musical precision. The first show of a sold-out, three-night run at the cozy Largo at the Coronet, Bird playfully bantered with the audience and created a comfortable air of parity between fan and performer.
Bird has always been an oddity in the indie-rock community, simultaneously capable of creating wildly eclectic folk music, luminous instrumental compositions and simple, threadbare pop. Through all of his excursions, Bird has maintained a singular compositional voice that is often comforting, sentimental and strangely affecting. His newest release, 2012’s backwards looking, primitively recorded “Hands of Glory” serves as another satisfying installment in a catalogue brimming with strong and stately musical accomplishments.
As the house lights faded, the audience applauded briefly then fell into a rapt and respectful silence, which persisted throughout most of the set. Bird began looping various violin patterns, building a bed of undulating melodies and rhythms over which he sang the fractured lyrical strains of “Hole in the Ocean Floor.” As the song stretched in length, Bird — a well-known and unquestionably virtuosic whistler — whistled complex melodic runs and looped them against the caterwauling violin refrains. He then added layers of glockenspiel to the wonderful, cacophonic cauldron of sound and sonority.
An improvised instrumental piece followed, which eventually gave way to the wry, charmingly fractured “Action/Adventure,” which Bird explained had to be aborted the last time he played the Largo because he had forgotten how to play it. With his past failure firmly established, Bird delivered a complete reading of the song this time around.
The solo, loop-heavy portion of the set closed with a new song entitled “Pulaski” — a beautiful, snowy lament that benefited from a wonderful violin theme that recurred throughout. If “Pulaski” is an indicator of Bird’s future musical direction, then it seems he will be returning to the lush melodicism of earlier efforts.
Afterward, Bird was joined by his recent recording and touring collaborators, bassist Allan Hampton and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker. Huddled around one microphone, the trio dove into a reductionist reading of the oblique and wordy “MX Missiles,” followed by some straightforward, old-timey runs through the group’s most recent compositions. The newer material was well suited to the stripped-down format, borrowing melodies from traditional folk and gospel music while still retaining a distinct and compelling flavor.
Opener Tift Merritt joined the trio for a number of songs, including an excellent, emotionally rich version of “Spirograph.” Throughout the evening the mood was warm, whimsical and humorous, exemplified by the debut airing of Bird’s absurd, delightfully un-clever imaginary television theme song, “Professor Socks.” His tongue-in-cheek delivery kept the audience laughing throughout, and Bird himself could barely keep from cracking up as the tune came to its calamitous finale. It was a wonderfully paced performance, perfectly tailored to the Largo’s intimate theater setting. Luckily, Bird will be back for two more nights.