The Late Movies: Andrew Bird, Whistling Violinist/Singer/Guitarist


Andrew Bird is my favorite violinist, partly because he's not just a violinist. He's a master whistler, singer, guitarist, xylophonist, and looper -- that last one is particularly interesting. By using digital looping effects, he's able to create the sound of an entire band by himself. In some settings, he trades off playing violin and guitar, setting up loops behind him. It's fantastic stuff, especially live -- I saw him at Coachella some years ago, and his whistling sticks with me. Oh, and he also writes for the New York Times. Have a listen.

"Tenuousness," 2008

Live in The Basement, Bird sets up a loop plucking his violin, plays over it, sings over it, and eventually switches to guitar. Mesmerizing.

"If I Needed You," During Hurricane Sandy

With Tift Merritt and Alan Hampton on Letterman, during one of Dave's audience-less shows due to Hurricane Sandy. First, think back to Sandy. Imagine you're in New York during the storm, doing a show with nobody in the audience. Got it? Now, settle back and listen to these three sing into a single microphone. Simply beautiful, and somehow simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking. If you stick around to the very end, you can see the empty auditorium. Note: this is a Townes Van Zandt tune.

Note: I'm pretty sure Hampton retunes his bass on the fly during this song (he reaches up to the headstock at one point). Major bonus points.

"Plasticities," 2008

Showcasing Bird's whistling chops (starting around the one-minute mark), this is another cut from Bird's apparently nearly audience-less show at The Basement.

"Anonanimal," Live on Cemetery Gates

One YouTube commenter sums it up: "This is the music I'd? like to die listening to."

"Imitosis," 2007

In Paris, with help on percussion. From his terrific Armchair Apocrypha tour.

"Effigy," 2009

From the lovely Noble Beast, this one takes a melodic turn around one minute in. With a full band, for a change.

With Yo-Yo Ma

Improvising to "Dona Nobis Pacem."

Bird's TED Talk

In this nineteen-minute talk, Bird plays and explains a bit of what he's doing. At the 5:30 mark, he explains his song "Eyeoneye," then plays it around 9:30. The finished song later appeared on Break It Yourself.

Fever Year

Apparently Bird suffered a fever...for a year. He continued playing and touring, and the year is captured in a documentary entitled Fever Year. I really want to see this. Here's the trailer.

Official Trailer (2:45) from Andrew Bird: Fever Year on Vimeo.

Getting Started With Andrew Bird

If you're new to Bird, I recommend Armchair Apocrypha. If you like this, there are many more great Bird records.