Andrew Bird – Useless Creatures – At The Bell House 2/25/2012

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Let me throw out a theory about The Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It might be emerging as one of the best venues in the NY area. Yes, its incredibly far out there. The closest subway stop is not operational, you have to walk through a sketchy industrial area in the middle of the night uphill both ways in the snow to get there. There’s really not much close to it as far as bars and restaurants go. All of these factors only increase the quality of shows there.

Lets say you go to a show at the Bowery Ballroom, a time tested fantastic venue. You get all sorts of people. The drunk girls who are just stopping by on the way to their night out culminating in someone throwing up in a cab. The Bro Dudes who don’t really care about the show, but it’s easy to get to and there are hipster girls there, so they talk the whole time.  The group of friends who spends the quiet songs discussing who should get the coats from coat check.  The list goes on. At the Bell House, everyone in attendance legitimately wants to be there. They have made the trek. They have crossed the rivers or they have walked the miles. And if they want to just hang out and talk before throwing up in a cab, there’s a front bar for that with plenty of seating.

This became apparent on Saturday night when Andrew Bird performed a secret show at the venue under the name “Useless Creatures.” I thought about it….and I’ve never really seen a bad show at the venue. Every crowd has been respectful, the sound was always good, it was never a problem to get a drink, the douche factor was incredibly low. I also live a quick mile walk from the venue now….but that didn’t really play in, or at least I won’t let it for professional purposes. But now, onto the show.

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Andrew Bird is a unique character. Here’s an example. At the Tribecca Film Festival this year, they screened a film called “Andrew Bird Fever Year” about his year long tour for his previous album, in which he basically had the flu the entire time. His theory was, that in order to perform every night, his body had to conserve enough energy during the day, increasing the temperature until it was time to play. It was a beautiful film, visually, sonically, narrative wise, everything. It screened twice. It will never be released, no DVD, it will not tour the festival circuit, that’s it. He just wanted to document his live band at the time, because he thought they had achieved the absolute perfect sound for the music hall venue. That’s the kind of musician he is.

In the film, we see him working on several new songs in his barn. Beautiful melancholy type tunes, spacey violin loops, simple arrangements. Rumor had it that many of these songs would appear on his new album. His new album is coming out next week, so when an email went out to his mailing list saying a band called the “Useless creatures (wink wink)” would be playing the Bell House, I was in. They announced it Friday, the show was Saturday, and sold out quickly.

The show opened with Bird playing solo, and announced they would be playing the entire new record, start to finish, beginning with the last song, then starting over (yep.) This was the first show with his new band, basically the same as the old band, except his former bass player is now on tour with Indie Monster Juggernaut Bon Iver. Martin Dosh is still on drums, Jeremy Ylvisaker is still on guitar. I don’t know the new bass player’s name, but he played very well.

Overall, the new album keeps to the vibe of the few songs that had been floating around for the past few months. More slow than fast, lots of harmony, lots of low octave swirling violin loops. His band seems to perform like another limb of his. The drums don’t sound like typical rock drums, the extra guitar plays fast picked tremolo lines, the bass sounds like his pizzicato violin bass during solo sets, only bigger.

I would say the standout track is called “Lusitania” with a catchy hook, nice groove, all those things we love about folky pop tunes. I believe St Vincent sings a verse on the record. (which is now streaming at NPR)

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At the end of the set, they came back and played a few hits, including my personal favorite “Tables and Chairs”  particularly for the line “There will be snacks….all kinds of snacks.”  and a few others.  They closed with several Handsome Family covers, all acoustic, just one mic at the foot of the stage.  Bird commented that this might be the perfect venue to do such a thing.  I would have to agree.

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