Review: Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird enchants during his first-ever San Antonio performance

In addition to being a killer violinist, the singer-songwriter can whistle well enough to dumbfound actual songbirds.

click to enlarge Bathed in blue light, multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird makes his San Antonio debut. - Kevin Sanchez
Kevin Sanchez
Bathed in blue light, multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird makes his San Antonio debut.
Prolific multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Andrew Bird had never played San Antonio before Tuesday night, and he chose a perfect venue, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, to make his debut and treat the city to an enchanting evening. 

Bird's opener, Silvana Estrada, consecrated the space with her death-defying Mexican folk phrasings and cuatro-playing, carrying the set as a solo performer. She's been on tour since January, despite a recent back injury which required her to be helped on and off stage. She's also up for two Grammys: Best New Artist and Best Singer-Songwriter Album.

Like Estrada, Bird's partner in crime — Sam Beam of Iron & Wine — took a busker's approach, armed with only his booming voice, solo guitar, snide banter and the Tobin's warm resonance.

Both openers are gifted with loud enough pipes to have filled the attentive room without amplification, and they requested and received audience vocal participation. In Beam's case, he teasingly likened the crowd's efforts to "bovine orgies." Highlights of his set included the mellow "Call It Dreaming" and the pensive "Talking To Fog."

Following the two solo performances, the Birdman unleashed the full band treatment. In addition to bassist Anna Butterss  — a veteran of tours supporting Phoebe Bridgers, Jenny Lewis and Aimee Mann — his backing included Tyler Chester on keys and Abe Rounds on drums, who worked on Bird's latest album, Inside Problems.

A classically trained violinist in the Suzuki method from the age of 4, Bird's first appearance on my radar was a video series called Take Away Shows, which featured an impromptu performance of his song "Spare-Ohs" on the cobbled streets of Paris. He's the best whistler I've ever heard, capable of dumbfounding actual songbirds.

I followed Bird around SXSW soon after, watching him dance across his loop pedals at a radio station gig as he layered on rock 'n' roll guitar, devilish violin, counterpoint whistling and cerebral lyrics. Discogs lists Bird's catalogue as 22 albums and 49 singles and EPs since 1996.

The peak of Bird's Tobin performance was "Bloodless," and not just because it reworks a line by poet William Butler Yeats and exudes solidarity for the republican cause during the Spanish Civil War. Not just because of that. Should the enemies of art ever attempt a final offensive in these United States, I know which side Andrew Bird will be on.

Let's hope San Antonio is now a regular stop in Bird's unceasing migration.

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