It was a night of firsts. My first time at all-new downtown Los Angeles music venue The Bellwether. It was the first time Andrew Bird performed there. And the first night that Bird’s new mostly-instrumental album “Outside Problems” was out in the world. Sort of a companion piece to 2022’s “Inside Problems” (The album at the heart of this tour), “Outside Problems” realized Bird’s unrealized wish to record the first album outdoors, much of it in popular/rustic LA getaway, Ojai. From the first notes of “Mormon House Party” the pizzicato violin loops built from a babbling brook to a flowing river of sound that seemingly carried the audience right up into the Toptopa Mountains valley far, far away from their physical location surrounded by the Visconti apartments, the LAUSD high-rise, and the faint grumble of the Harbor Freeway.
From there we were off on a journey through “Inside Problems” from the melodically-infectious “Make a Picture” to reflective “Lone Didion”, quirky “Atomized” to the metamorphosis of the title track and it’s delightful melodies. Then things went up to another level with the timeless groove of “Underlands” where bassist Anna Butterss and drummer Ted Poor laid down the funkiest groove of the night. And then Madison Cunningham, recent Grammy-winner for Folk Album of the Year, who had been over on the side playing guitar, sang. And it was epic. And the Bird/Cunningham voices together, just like on the album, absolute magic. Plus by now we were getting some extensive Bird whistling and that’s a whole other magic itself. Soon after that everything got more acoustical for the Old Time half of the set. Butterss with Upright Bass and Cunningham acoustic guitar and trading singing duties with Bird through “Orpheo Looks Back” and “Lusitania” from 2012’s “Break It Yourself”, “Left Handed Kisses”, and a cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest” (Which is also a recent Rufus Wainwright release featuring Bird).
As Bird and the band charted their course towards the end of the set it was time to play the hits.
“Sisyphus” displayed Bird’s whistle-abilities at their peak. “Manifest” mellowed things out for a bit, but like every other song in the night displayed Bird’s incredible melodic skills. And then it was time for “Pulaski at Night”, a song that can make you happy, make you sad, make you nostalgic, basically sail through all the emotions in a 5 minute masterpiece. After a fairly brief encore the night was over and the Bellwether emptied out and we were off into the night with a zillion melodies and whistles swirling through our minds. Andrew Bird’s “Inside Problems” tour continues with upcoming dates in Evanston, Bozeman, Boulder, and back in California at Sierra Nevada Resort in Mammoth Lakes September 16th.
How was the Bellwether you wondered? It’s great! Figured the folks who brought you the Teragram Ballroom and Moroccan Lounge would do it right and sure enough the sound, the lighting, the sightlines, they’re all exceptional. There’s a spacious patio with a view of downtown. There’s a restaurant we’ll need to try. And perhaps most importantly, there’s a large parking lot across Boylston St and it’s reasonably priced. Maybe get there early if you go to ensure parking happiness.
Words and photos by Tim Aarons