Most times when I arrive at a concert, I’m anticipating a solid set from a band in some dingy bar down in Brooklyn, and more often than not, I don’t really get out to events much bigger than that. To be sure, I’m generally not a huge fan of seated shows, if only because the arrangement promotes a lack of audience involvement. Beacon Theatre is one of the Upper West Side of Manhattan’s most prestigious concert venues and as such is seated. It was with some trepidation then that I made my first ever trek to the majestic venue to take in Andrew Bird and Patrick Watson’s show on Friday night.
From the opening notes of Watson’s set it became clear that any concerns that I might have had coming in were sorely misplaced. Watson and his crack backing band took to the stage in complete darkness, conjuring up an orchestral racket unseen this side of Sufjan Stevens and Sigur Ros. Though his studio work seemed in many ways an appropriate compliment to what I expected of Bird’s live performance, the set that Watson and co. put on eclipsed Bird’s set in many ways. Though certainly the less established of the two acts, Watson’s songs absolutely soared in their full band setup.
Though for the most part Watson’s set was in this stunning full band arrangement, for several songs he pared down his sound taking to a condenser microphone at the center of the stage. These numbers were mostly acoustic based, rife with harmonies, violin and even the occasional saw. We saw both sides of an immensely talented musician, both in his stripped bare set and his bombastic full band setup, and both sides seemed to communicate even clearer the intense emotion present in the songs on Adventures In Your Own Backyard.
Then the houselights came back up and I was left to ponder what I had just witnessed. It was one of the better opening sets I had ever seen, certainly, and something more unique and fresh than I expected Andrew Bird capable of bringing. As interesting and entertaining as Bird’s live schtick may have been at the time of its inception, it seemed to me that he couldn’t possibly live up to the breath of fresh air that was Watson’s set. Of course, I was proven wrong in some ways. Through his impeccable musicianship and professional manner, Bird was able to convert me from skeptic to enraptured follower within just a few songs.
After opening with an instrumental piece, tied together by his usual glockenspiel, whistling, and violin combo, his band took to the stage behind him. Martin Dosh’s ever present percussion lent a new life to staple tracks like “Plasticities” and underpinned the stunning complexity of newer numbers. Though we weren’t granted a St. Vincent duet, as I briefly speculated before the show (she too, was playing in New York on Friday night), Break It Yourself was otherwise well represented. Bird and his band led rousing versions of “Near Death Experience”, album opener “Desperation Breeds”, and lead single “Eyeoneye.” It was a set that if not praiseworthy for its daring, was at the very least praiseworthy for its competency.
Though Bird’s brand of loop based violin music is often imitated these days, finally seeing it from the originator, in person, made clear why such a style became popular. Though he’s not necessarily touring off his best album at this point, on Friday night, he proved he still maintains the stunning musicianship that drew the crowds to him to begin with.