Andrew Bird, The Luminaire, London

A world of eggs lies at his feet

Tonight, Bird (pictured) is standing alone, surrounded by equipment, on the stage at one of London's more intimate venues. It's worth describing - though words could never do it justice - exactly what this Chicago-based singer-songwriter does. A classically trained violinist, Bird might start by playing a pizzicato riff, which he will then record and loop. Before long, he will have layered the backing music to orchestral proportions and then, and only then, he might start to accompany himself on guitar and glockenspiel. He builds his extraordinary songs (literally - he is surrounded by floor pedals) from the ground up.

He is also, as one US critic pointed out, a world-class whistler. And you can banish whatever memories of Roger Whittaker that phrase may evoke. Because when these strange components are blended together, Bird, ever the unshowy showman, can then pluck out of his repertoire songs as eloquent and intriguing as any you will ever hear.

Looking every inch the college lecturer the girls have a secret crush on, Bird also teases words until they have no choice but to surrender to his will. Take this from "Sovay", off his masterful The Mysterious Production of Eggs album: "I think I'm gonna sack the whole board of trustees/ All those Don Quixotes in their B-17s/ They'll blow us back to the Seventies playing 'Ride of the Valkyries'/ With no semblance of grace or ease/ Acting on vagaries/ With their violent proclivities."

He's literate, urbane, funny and sophisticated, though never at the expense of a damn fine pop tune. USA Today described what Bird does as "Beck meets Itzhak Perlman". And while that's pretty close to the truth, the place Bird really occupies right now can best be described as that of a post-post-modern Paul Simon. Only instead of trying to build a bridge, he is more concerned to examine forensically what might have troubled the waters in the first place.

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