Andrew Bird has always made the case that he doesn’t need a band. He’s a one-man symphony, equipped with only his violin, a system of looping and effects pedals, and one of the most vivid imaginations in modern indie rock. Who needs more than that?
That was the impression Bird imparted during his first song at a sold-out House of Blues Sunday night. When his three bandmates emerged, they seemed superfluous – until they started playing and suddenly transported the songs to a more tangible realm.
Bird could get by on his own, but in recent years he has been writing music that feels less insular and more suited to an ensemble. Rooted in chamber pop, his newer songs are still panoramic, but in a way that engages the listener. His early work always struck me as lessons in virtuosity; it was impressive but rarely drew you too close to its creator.
On “Break It Yourself,” his new album released in March, Bird cracked that façade even more. The music isn’t quite as confined by structure, and he treats open space as if it were just as important as key changes and counter melodies.
He relied heavily on his band to re-create that ambience on Sunday night. Martin Dosh anchored the group on drums, percussion, and keys, but guitarist Lonesome Jim and bassist Alan Hampton added their own dusky flourishes. Together they were as adept at rocking out (“Eyeoneye,” “Plasticities”) as looking inward (“Fatal Shore,” a homespun rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You”).
Bird played off his bandmates, filling in the lines with filigrees he bowed, plucked, and even strummed on his violin. He has a talent for making the instrument sound like something else entirely, from ukulele to electric guitar. And when that didn’t do the trick, he whistled in synch with the delicate plinks he tapped out on a xylophone.
He’s grown into a more comfortable showman, too. From 2001’s “Why?” to the new “Near Death Experience Experience,” he exhibited a more conversational singing style, as if he were talking to the crowd instead of performing in front of it.
Patrick Watson, who opened the show, works in a similarly intimate vein. The Canadian singer-songwriter’s cozy performance, cast in the soft glow of lights strung out across the stage, blurred the line between artist and audience. When Watson and his four bandmates huddled around a single microphone, the poignant moment foreshadowed what would become the evening’s prevailing theme: one band, one heartbeat.