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Simply bursting with extraordinary ideas

December 06, 2007|August Brown

The giant, Art Deco gramophone that rotates behind Andrew Bird when he performs is hard to miss. It's a nifty prop that evokes Bird's brand of violin-driven, electronically manipulated chamber pop. But if you watch closely, you'll see that Bird is playing his onstage furniture as he does his violin, guitar, sampler and much-touted whistle: like an instrument.

"I run my violin through it, and it creates this effect like a Leslie speaker but with more of a Doppler effect," Bird said. "It's a great combination of ingenuity and sculpture."

That's not a bad way to describe his music, either. On his breakthrough 2005 album, "Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs," the Chicagoan crystallized his panoply of influences (Gypsy traditionals, Jazz Age torch songs, Elephant 6 fuzz-folk and arcane science textbooks) into a thicket of accessible, madcap pop tunes.

But the rub on Bird has been that he almost has too many good ideas. Each of his albums, from his stint as an auxiliary member of Squirrel Nut Zippers to his rock band Bowl of Fire and many solo releases, have little in common outside of Bird's rakish voice and, as 2007 Coachella attendees noticed, an excellent taste in argyle socks.

Bird's 2007 release, the sleek and mannered "Armchair Apocrypha," proved he knew when to say when on his overdubs and biology references, but anyone who's watched him and his crack backing band use looping pedals to build rapturous crescendos knows why he can't shake a certain pesky compliment.

"When I hear the word 'virtuoso,' it usually means 'showoff,' and I don't want to do that," Bird said. "But a whole run of melismatic phrases is really fun. I was recently listening to the song 'Tables and Chairs' off of 'Eggs,' and there's a line where I say, 'I'm so tired of being mild,' and I had to ask myself why I sound so mild."

There are worse fates than being scary good at your instrument, however, and Bird explores many of them in his mordant, often hilarious lyrics. He's detailed the travails of "dewy-eyed Disney brides" pumped full of embalming fluid and foreseen his own plunge to doom in the crowd favorite "Fiery Crash." The tune has become a mantra of sorts for Bird, whose good-luck charm on a plane is first to imagine it falling from the sky, where no amount of virtuosity can save him.

"Sometimes when I'm really tired, I'll forget to do it and then I panic," Bird said. "I once got on a jumbo jet in Dublin where they made me walk across the tarmac, and I thought, 'But where's the Jetway where I'll imagine the fiery crash?' "

-- August.Brown@latimes.com

--

ANDREW BIRD

WHERE: Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway, L.A.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

PRICE: $27

INFO: www.laorpheum.com

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