2007_01_arts_bird.jpgAndrew Bird, whose inspired 2005 album The Mysterious Production of Eggs was an indie hit, brought his sublime genre-defying songs (and socks) to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom last night. He was joined on percussion and keyboards by regular collaborator Martin Dosh and Jeremy Ylvisaker – a new addition to his road show – on bass and guitar.

It’s always exciting to watch Bird weave his songs together live; in addition to playing violin, Gibson hollow-body electric guitar and glockenspiel, Bird also whistles with a fervor capable of summoning all the animals in the forest to his aid, were he ever in need of a critter army.

All these instruments – with the added looping that Dosh does with his kit and keyboards – are often layered together within a single song; Bird will play an extended phrase on the violin, for instance, then, with a tap of his foot on one of his various pedals laid out at his feet, set the riff to loop. He’ll then loop another instrument, and repeat, until he’s playing along in a funnel of his own sonic tornado – which isn’t complete until his devastating voice is swirled into the mix.

This level of complexity is not without its risks. Last night Bird appeared on-stage wearing a seemingly new pair of shiny black shoes. The first song, an instrumental, got off to a rocky start, with Bird interrupting himself several times to locate the source of some reverb and futz with the pedals. The next song, A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left, was also held up by technical difficulties (and leavened by Bird’s laid-back, mumbled apologies).

Something just wasn’t right. It wasn’t until a woman near the stage shouted: “Take off your shoes!” that everything fell into place. “That’s what it is!” exclaimed Bird and immediately stepped out of his kicks; we were off to the races.

Last night’s set was comprised almost exclusively of songs from his forthcoming album, a gutsy move for any musician. But his live show is so deliciously rich and his compositions so charming – even on first listen – that nobody was griping. (Of course it wasn’t without some slight regret that we walked away without hearing Sovay, Measuring Cups, Fake Palindromes and, well, everything else from his back catalogue.)

Particularly notable stand-outs from the new material included Scythian Empire, Dark Matter (played to keep a promise to someone), and Dear Dirty, on which Bird’s haunting vocals rose and fell ecstatically over a moody, irresistible groove. The 100 minute show culminated with Bird solo on his old song Glass Figurine, after which the trio regrouped for an utterly transporting Tables and Chairs. (There would be snacks after all.)

Bird prefaced the song by announcing that he’s always sworn two things to himself: That he would never wear shorts on stage and never ask for the audience to sing along. Rule #2 was soon shattered to great effect with Bird encouraging the audience to join in on the song’s sumptuous choral refrain (which is usually played on violin), sending us floating out into the night with a warm, communal vibe. (Rule #1 remained unbroken, but we’re okay with that.)

Andrew Bird’s new album, Armchair Apocrypha, will be released on March 20th.

Photo by BrooklynVegan, more here.