In a sold-out show presented by USC Spectrum Saturday night, multitalented musician and indie folk sensation Andrew Bird brought a highly diverse slice of the student body out to Bovard Auditorium to experience the prodigy’s offbeat music.
Despite the show’s slated start time 8 p.m., students began to flood the venue about an hour before. The concert drew a number of undergraduates to the upscale Bovard Auditorium who otherwise might not have visited.
Bird began his set, pleasing a crowd that apparently appreciated his punctuality. But before he even started to play, the silence indicated that this woukd not be an ordinary gig.
It was not the type of concert to camp out for, sacrificing a day to get a good place; it was also not the type of concert with wildly screaming fans. Somehow, the Andrew Bird concert ended up like a lecture, devoid of everything that makes a rock concert a rock concert.
Bird himself was mesmerizing and his musical talent, including an uncanny ability to turn layered violin loops into songs, was more than captivating. In conjunction with his dreamy storytelling and eclectic talents — whistling and playing the glockenspiel, most notably — the concert seemed to have the makings of a perfectly memorable night.
It’s not as if the event was unsuccessful, just that the vibe was more akin to one of intellectual awe rather than one of emotional attachment to the music being played. In his position on Bovard’s center stage, Bird appeared less indie rock star and more guest speaker.
The fact that Bird was alone on stage probably contributed to the lecture-like experience. He had no drummer or pianist, both of which he sometimes uses in live shows. His speeches, although full of wit and charisma, also added to the feeling that the show was a demonstration and not a music concert. Bird even told the audience he was nervous because he was in a school.
Saturday night’s Bovard show was an especially significant one for Bird, as it was the last on his tour.
“This is an important show and I really want to feel good after this one,” Bird said.
It’s very likely that he did feel good after the performance; Bird gave two encores. But the performance overall seemed to lack true emotion, at least from the crowd. The student body was somehow desensitized, perhaps from too much time spent amid the glamour and overstimulation of Los Angeles.
It even felt like a history lesson, as Bird played songs from his days in a previous band called Bowl of Fire. If anyone were not familiar with this earlier project, USC Spectrum had prepared a very ostentatious pamphlet that explained everything about its guest and his history.
All the same, USC Spectrum clearly knew what it was doing, as the performance sold out.
Toward the end, Bird’s lecture grew tedious, his formula for building songs became predictable and parts of the crowd seemed bored enough to fall asleep.
Although his violin virtuosity still shone, it became boring to hear him create loops over and over. The most dynamic parts of the performance ended up being the ones in which he serenaded everyone conventionally, with only his voice and his guitar.
USC has always been an awkward locale for musicians and music-lovers alike. It’s not a bad place for students, as the university does arrange numerous performances each semester, but the performances are sometimes confusing. The performances either end up as quasi-lectures — Bird on Saturday, Rufus Wainwright and Julieta Venegas in past semesters — or very commercialized hit parades — Gym Class Heroes and Hellogoodbye, for instance. With such a diverse student body to cater to, Program Board, USC Spectrum and Visions and Voices have their work cut out for themto find a happy medium that appeals to all.