I saw the musician Andrew Bird in concert the other night, and he made me completely re-think the entire way I believe music should be written. But not in the way you may imagine.
Bird is an amazing songwriter. He comes up with rhythms that seem entirely incomplete and yet understandable. The layers are magnificent. He plays violin. He plays guitar. He plays xylophone, while he simultaneously whistles like a winged creature. Notice I didn't say Bird.
But something happened to me while he began each song. I sat in the top nosebleed seats inside the Southern Theatre of Columbus, OH. To look around, you became dizzy from the height. The seats were actually quite comfortable, with a kind of plush blue velvet. However, my knees were crammed against the partition. To my left was the person I came with. To my right was a complete stranger. Behind me were people. In front of me were people. I think therein lay the problem. This wasn't a rock concert - it was a prison. I couldn't stand. I couldn't cross my legs. I couldn't scratch my balls, or even shift them for comfort. I was trapped.
The first musician came out at 8:30 p.m. and by all accounts she was amazing. But when you sit in a prison, you begin to notice the little things. Like the way every song begins with the guy on his Acetone keyboard starting some droning background thing. Then everyone joins in and the girl starts plucking her acoustic guitar like we have all the time in the world. But we don't. I was born on this earth and I swear I am going to live every moment. So the first song ends and the next song ends and then the next song starts. The Acetone kicks in. The bass begins. She starts plucking. I know where this is going.
That is why when Bird took the stage at around 9 p.m. I had to take a step back. In my mind, of course, because I was encased in a prison of seating. It's not until you are forced to sit on your hands for 24 hours straight, that you begin to realize how much you need your hands. Much in the same way, the minute Bird began a song with his violin; you immediately knew that he was going to play it for approximately 2 minutes all by himself. Then when he started making loops you knew you were going to be dealing with another 2 minutes of looping. When the drummer kicked in, you realized that the song hadn't even started yet. But that is when the bass player started up. Some four minutes later Bird finally starts singing and when he does he makes Jeff Buckley look like an amateur.
As I sat back imagining what it must be like to be so gifted as Bird, it occurred to me that I had to leave. Immediately. With each song that Bird started, I knew where it was going. If he picked up his violin it meant that I would not be shifting my balls for another 6 to 10 minutes. The violins would crescendo like heaven's gates had opened. His voice and whistle would warble like Madonna in the 80s. But the whole time you knew where it was going. Each movement he took, only sealed the fate of your prison seating assignment. God forbid the song started with the drummer. Then you really knew you were in for complete hell.
That is why, dear readers, I have completely begun to rethink the way songs should be written. They must each sound different from the first, so you are tricked into listening longer. They must also be short. That doesn't sound so revolutionary. But have you heard the majority of CDs lately? Every band on a major label has a "sound." They make themselves famous with that sound. And then they drive that sound into the ground because they are not capable of drifting beyond it.
After 11 p.m. Andrew Bird came out for his first and only encore. I almost knocked people down trying to get out. So from now on I require that musicians keep in mind that most human beings find it impossible to sit through a 3 hour seated concert without moving. At some point normal human beings need to move around. Music is about moving.
Please Andrew Bird, I beg of you. Stop playing for more than two hours straight. Stop performing in theaters like this. If I had a strobe light I would have thrown it at you from the nosebleed seats. Then I would have been that crazy guy, scratching his balls while the police lights flooded the room.
People with Animal Heads