Thursday, December 22, 2011

You Missed Out: Andrew Bird's Sonic Arboretum

(originally published at Heave Media)

Andrew Bird is one of those live acts that is so much better when it's a solo performance. Don't get me wrong, it's great when Dosh is playing drums with him, but when Bird is up there all by himself the stakes are so much higher. Any mistake on that looping machine and he's toast. The weight of the evening's success is squarely on that one man's tiny shoulders.

Then again, Andrew Bird received a huge amount of visual accompaniment for his shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art this week. The Sonic Arboretum is on display until the end of December, showcasing dozens of whimsical sculptures which were uniquely designed to emanate the music of Andrew Bird. Ian Schneller invented the tulip-like speakers, and Andrew Bird almost always incorporates a handful of them into his live shows. I've seen Andrew Bird play with these amplifiers for years now, but with rows of the speakers stretching throughout the entire floor of the museum's main level, the resulting sensory effect far surpassed my expectations.

One violin loop might be heard from one speaker, while his melodic whistle echoes from a larger horn around the corner. He recorded music to be played at the exhibit during museum hours, but for his live show he treated sold out audiences to a remarkable display of virtuosity and creative ingenuity by not only looping flawlessly in and out of harmonies, but assigning each loop to a different horn section.

Most of the crowd enjoyed the performance from one spot, as is often the case at rock concerts. But the smarter listeners wandered throughout the space, occasionally bending over one of the speaker horns like a hummingbird into a flower. The pristine sounds projected upward from the ground, almost giving the sculptures a growing life force as Tchaikovsky's music did in Fantasia.

Bird played without any opener, for a little over an hour. Half of his set consisted of old favorites, and the other half new songs which were either created specifically for the Sonic Arboretum or his upcoming 2012 release. A highlight was an instrumental piece he called "new thing," which is also part of the recorded exhibit and features a heart-achingly gorgeous violin harmony.

The live experience of Andrew Bird was already a well-established norm in the world of indie rock, but the man has topped himself with the Sonic Arboretum. I have no idea what he can possibly do next, but where I lack imagination, I trust Andrew Bird will more than make up for my deficiency.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You Missed Out: G-Side

Ok, back to the blog. Sorry for the lack of updates. I tend to leave my yearly top 10 up top for a few weeks like that. People usually care more about top 10 lists than anything else that I post throughout the year, so, yeah.

I've accomplished a few things since mid-November though. I DJed at Rodan, Whistler, Bonnys, Maeve and the Winter Local. If you missed any of that fun, check my calendar for gigs lined up at Beauty Bar, Burlington, Bonnys and Rodan in January.

In this week's Onion (grab it today if you haven't yet, new issues will be in the boxes tomorrow), I have a published interview with G-Side in the AV Club. If you didn't know, the Onion/AV Club is my favorite publication. To have my own work published in their pages is kinda a big deal for me. After years of writing for free, or for content farms, or religious publications, I feel like this is the first real break I've gotten. Maybe it's cheap to say this right here right now, but I just feel so grateful to be able to write about music and share it with my community. Imagining Chicagaons on the blue line this week, skimming the Onion on their way to work, chuckling at the editorial cartoon and then reading my Q&A with G-Side. It's a very cool feeling. Humbling too.

So, thanks to anyone who still supports this ridiculous lifestyle I'm pursuing. Writing for a living isn't easy, and you all know it. It's only because of your encouragement that I don't quit. My wife and family, fellow CHIRPers, freelance colleagues, and friends of past and present who have ever said a single word of praise, I appreciate you all so much. I hope you can see this publishing as a sort of validation. Take comfort in knowing you're not backing a fluke.

But! The ultimate reason I write about music is not to appease any of you dear readers. I write about music because I find it to be a valuable expression of my humanity. To me, music is proof that humans are a worthwhile species. In spite of all the dread, hate and pain we inflict upon one another, we can also make music for each other. We've figured out how to manipulate the waves that hold the universe together, and it makes us move in rhythm.

Last night at the Empty Bottle, G-Side moved a way-too-small crowd of life-lovers. I had a camera, but I didn't even want to pull it out to take a picture. I didn't want to keep still for a non-blurry blog post pic. It was a celebratory event, if not for the success of G-Side or Dylan Peterson or anything else, for the present moment of life worth living.

G-Side is making great music, and I hope that their fan base grows in 2012 and beyond. But they understand that a sold out show doesn't necessarily make a night better. The past can be appreciated and the future might look promising, but if we can't make good right here and right now, we're out of touch. Their smiles were sincere and their voices resonated with joy and thankfulness. They had fun up there on the little Empty Bottle stage, it was one of the best rap shows I've ever seen.

It's been a landmark year for a lot of people. But if I learned anything in 2011, it's to celebrate every day. We're still here, we have to love it now. (Don't miss out.)