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Andrew Bird Talks Old Chicago Haunts And New 'Pop'

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 6, 2016 5:49PM

Photo by Addie Juell

Andrew Bird made his name coming up through the Chicago music scene over 15 years ago, playing small Wicker Park and Logan Square clubs. So it's been a joy for us to watch him graduate from that scene to playing large venues—often pushing the boundaries of live pop performances—and commanding spaces as large as Millennium Park, where Bird plays on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

Bird is touring behind his new album, Are You Serious, which continues to merge Bird's more esoteric interests with radio-ready hooks. On the more pop side of things, the LP features a high-profile collaboration with Fiona Apple on the slow burning single "Left Handed Kisses." But we prefer the portions of the album that give Bird center stage and cater to his strengths—and we don't simply mean music that features his dextrous whistling and virtuosic violin playing.

"Capsized" opens the album with an insistent funk beat backed by distorted organ; and Bird slips into the vocal equivalent of a velour suit to deliver one of the sexiest songs about break-up we've heard in a long time. (Don't believe that's the subject matter? We've got the word from Bird that it is.) And "Puma" is one of the least likely Summer Strut songs we've heard in a long time—but we dare you not to ride atop its chorus and walk down the street in anything less than a hip-shakin' gait.

Lyrically, for a man known to stuff verses and choruses with a backbreaking number of syllables, Are You Serious is relatively straightforward. Where Bird once tried to couch his subject matter in obtuse terminology, on the new album he seems to have decided that transparency is a worthwhile exercise as well.

Bird was kind enough to answer a few questions from us ahead of his appearance at Millennium Park tomorrow at 7 p.m.

CHICAGOIST: It's been a while since you've lived here, but we'll always claim you as a Chicagoan. When you were a resident what were some of your favorite places to go, either to hang out or play music?

ANDREW BIRD: The Lakeside Lounge in Uptown, which is long gone but was a favorite late night spot. Nightwatch was the house band that played behind the bar till 4 a.m. The Hideout of course was our clubhouse for years and my favorite place to play.

C: When you do make it back to town what are some of the things you love to do still?

ANDREW BIRD: I usually head straight to Lula Cafe. Logan Square was the last neighborhood I lived in. I played there when it first opened.

C: Your last few albums have shown a trend toward a shinier pop direction—not a bad thing! What's been driving that?

ANDREW BIRD: I'd only take issue with the word shiny. The last few records have been pretty scrappy affairs, but I think what you're hearing is less whimsy and artful digressions and more simple, memorable songwriting. That's the most challenging thing to do. I've got plenty of side projects to satisfy my artistic urges, I'm just trying to write good songs.

C: What's your favorite place to still play in town?

ANDREW BIRD: Either The Hideout or The Auditorium Theater. Millennium Park is pretty special, too.

C: Anything else you'd like to tell us about the new album?

ANDREW BIRD: I put as much sweat into this one as I did The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Maybe the "album" is dead as an art form, but I thought I'd give it another shot.

Andrew Bird plays Millennium Park on Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. and tickets are still available.