Andrew Bird will release his twelfth studio album, Break It Yourself, next month—and last night, the insanely talented multi-instrumentalist performed the record in its entirety at The Bell House for the first time. "I knew this was going to be a fun one to play live," Bird noted during the enthralling 90-minute long concert, which also included a couple of songs from his back catalog (the always uplifting "Tables and Chairs" and "Effigy") and a pair of Handsome Family covers. Tickets for the surprise show, which was announced just a day earlier, appear to have landed entirely in the hands of Bird's fans, who soaked up the new sounds with hushed awe. It's rare to encounter such an attentive crowd at a rock club—from bar to stage the entire room was all ears, and Bird seemed more relaxed and comfortable than we've ever seen him before.
After years of relentless, exhaustive touring, Bird's been laying relatively low for the past year, performing less but—as last night made abundantly clear—creating music as feverishly as ever. Now that we've heard Break It Yourself for the first time, it's tempting to immediately declare it a masterpiece and leave it at that. It's really that good, at least at first blush. Bird's compositions have always been sophisticated and elegant, but these songs also feel more mature somehow. Can a 12th album qualify as a "breakthrough" album? Because the daring arrangements and soulful lyrics on Break It Yourself show Bird pushing past artistic boundaries that were never apparent until he evolved beyond them.
It was revealed last night that there's been a notable lineup change in Bird's touring band. Mike Lewis, who had been playing bass with Bird for several years now, is gone, but the rest of his musicians—Marton Dosh on percussion and Jeremy Ylvisaker on guitar—remains blissfully intact. (Update: Bird's publicist tells us Mike Lewis is on a break to tour with Bon Iver, and the new bass player is Alan Hampton.) According to Bird, Break It Yourself, which was recorded at his barn in Western Illinois near the banks of the Mississippi River, is his first truly collaborative album. The process of making it with these musicians was, for the first time, "a communal experience," he explained at one point between songs.
Someone shouted, "Thank you!" Then they dove back into another sublime soundscape of looped violin, glockenspiel, guitar, percussion, singing and whistling. The whole room inevitably followed in unison. Break It Yourself drops March 6th, and Bird will be back in NYC in May for a two night stand at The Beacon Theater. You can currently stream the new album in its entirety on NPR!