Andrew Bird whistles his way to NoHo

By Garth Brody

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Indie folk multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird will take the stage at the Calvin Theater in Northampton tonight at 8 p.m. Bird will be supported by his frequent collaborator and opening act Dosh who will more than likely offer up his skills as a jazzy and dynamic percussionist.

Bird’s mellifluous music is marked by baroque violin melodies, crooning vibrato vocals reminiscent of the late Jeff Buckley and a folky sentimentality that is characterized by his pitch-perfect whistling. Bird’s layered harmonies are lush and exciting – so much so that they are often textured by glockenspiel or xylophone. The musician’s whistling is so nimble and precise that it has drawn comparisons to martial artistry, with Spinner dubbing him, “the Bruce Lee of the indie craft.”

The Oregonian actually goes so far as to proclaim that “Andrew Bird’s whistling is ‘The Matrix.’ His melodies dodge bullets.” Why all the Kung Fu analogies? Go find the live video for “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” on YouTube and try to avoid getting dropkicked by a butterfly. Bird’s whistling is simultaneously brutal and heart-breaking.

The whistling is just the tip of the iceberg with this variously talented musician. Bird has also been known to wail on just about anything with strings and a wooden frame, including acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin and violin. While more than proficient in several instruments, it is on the violin that Bird’s skills really shine. His playing style is spontaneous and soulful, but it is tempered with a deep classical background. Bird graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in violin performance in 1996, and he had already been playing violin since 1977 when he was just four years old.

It has been a couple of years now since Bird’s darkly pastoral 2009 release, “Noble Beast,” but he has certainly been keeping busy in the meantime. Earlier this month, Bird released his original score to the upcoming film “Norman,” an award-winning indie drama by Jonathan Segal about a troubled high school student. The film opens this Friday in select AMC theaters.

Bird contributed his cover of the immortal Kermit-sung tune “Bein’ Green” to the recent Muppets tribute album, “The Green Album.” The song fits right into his repertoire, and has been performed live recently as an introduction to his critically acclaimed single, “Fake Palindromes.” The album also features tracks by OK Go, Weezer and My Morning Jacket.

In September of last year, Bird joined forces with acoustic engineer Ian Schneller to build the atmospheric musical exhibition “Sonic Arboretum” in the Guggenheim Museum. The duo’s project was designed to create an aural environment that moved and expanded as authentically as in a natural outdoor setting. Schneller had previously contributed to the musician’s stage décor and acoustics by designing the unmistakable and constantly rotating Victrola-shaped dual speaker set-up that accompanies Bird at most of his performances.

For tonight’s performance, tickets are still available for $30 in advance or for $35 at the door. Tickets can be purchased through the Northampton Box Office online at http://www.nbotickets.com/venue_areas.asp, or over the phone at 413-586-8686.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected]