What to do on tour when you need to play several instruments at once? You can hire a band, or you can pre-record your accompaniment. But either of those options would make you feel like a jerk once you saw a solo Andrew Bird show. While drums are usually not part of the mix, Bird (right) manages to play every other instrument at the same time. He simply cheats. You'll see him with his violin, concentrating intently on something on the floor. He taps his foot, and the bow stops moving. The music keeps going on a loop as he picks up another instrument -- maybe a guitar, a little xylophone on a music stand, or he'll pucker up and whistle. He keeps going like this throughout a song, building a skillful and multi-layered sound over time, then silences it with another foot tap to woo his rapt audience with an intimate and unlooped moment of clarity. Tap. Back to the verse. That's how he did it for an astonishing one-song set on a local-artists' stage in Chicago last month, where a handful of eager fans scrutinized the seven-minute performance. Giving him a whole set would no doubt let Bird, the unlikely veteran of Squirrel Nut Zippers, bring his honest and quiet solo act to its careful climaxes -- and day-stopping monologues that people who've seen him won't shut up about.
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