Thursday, June 23, 2011

Concert reviews - Afternoon Naps, Andrew Bird

Last week Cara and I got to attend a couple of fun concerts, one a small show here in Cleveland and the second a much bigger show up in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

On Tuesday night we had our first date night as a married couple. It started with dinner at Michael Symon's Lolita restaurant, which was outstanding. We will undoubtedly be back. Later that night we headed up to the Grog Shop to catch our favorite local band, the Afternoon Naps.

Now, I've seen the Afternoon Naps more times than any other band; it's approaching double digits. I never tire of their delectable twee pop tunes, but after getting essentially the same set the last three times I had seen them, I was looking for some more variety. And we definitely got it! The Naps opened with a familiar song, "Orange Paw," a cute tune about a stray cat, but then devoted most of the rest of their half-hour set to a bunch of new music. I had previously been told by the band's guitarist/vocalist Tom Dechristofaro that they are working on a new album, so I was hoping to hear some new stuff, and I was thrilled by what I heard. The band is continuing to expand their sound in interesting new directions without straying too far from the charming indie pop mold. As this was the only time I've heard any of the new songs they played, I can't give very detailed descriptions, but I did note that a couple of the songs on which Leia Hohenfeld took lead vocals reminded me a bit of Camera Obscura - which is certainly not a bad thing. All in all, it was a very enjoyable set, and I'm very much looking forward to their new album, which I've heard may come out either this fall or early next year (I'm hoping it will be the former!)

One comment I will make about the Naps' set - more people should dance to their music! Cara and I were dancing to most of the (very danceable, I might add) songs, but few others there were. I know people want to look cool or whatever, but I suspect if they let themselves go a little they'd find it makes the show more fun. Not that it's a major gripe or anything, and not that everyone needs to dance, but I like to see people enjoying themselves, and I know the band members do too.

The Naps were supposed to be opening for the Cave Singers, a band I saw once a few years ago, but the Cave Singers had to cancel due to a band member being hospitalized that night with an illness. Their website reports that he is getting better, thankfully.

And now on to the second show of the week. After seeing my favorite artist, Okkervil River, the night before our wedding, we got to see Cara's favorite artist one week later. That would be one Andrew Bird, the incredibly talented singer/songwriter/violinist/whistler who has really made a name for himself in the world of indie music over the last decade. We saw him at the Power Center at the University of Michigan, and with seats at the center of the balcony, we were in a perfect position to experience a great evening of music. The venue was a far cry from the first time I saw Bird perform, at a very crowded Spot at Case Western Reserve University, standing in a small, packed room. Coincidentally, one of our Ann Arbor friends who we went to the show with was also with me at that Spot show some four or five years ago.

In another coincidence, the most recent previous time Cara and I had seen Andrew Bird play, we were seated right next to Leia from the Afternoon Naps, who we did not yet know at the time but who I recognized from having seen the band play.

And in yet another coincidence, Haley Bonar, the opener on Saturday night, was another artist I had previously seen play at the Spot. I'm sure I enjoyed that previous show, but it didn't leave that big an impression on me. Her performance this time, though, was quite impressive. I wasn't familiar with any of her music, but she and her band had my rapt attention through their whole set. Haley's strong, twangy vocals and the complex, atmospheric guitar parts in her songs are a surprising combination, and one that worked very well for me. I will definitely be checking out her albums.

Andrew Bird took the stage next, and was fantastic as always. If you've never seen him perform live, it's quite a thing to behold, as he loops multiple violin and guitar parts (all done live) to build up intricate, beautiful songs. Add to the instrumentation his quirky vocals and amazing whistling, and it's clear there are few musicians out there as talented as he is. Bird played most of this show solo; this was the first time Cara had seen him perform without a backing band, and she was thrilled with the experience. He did bring a guitarist from Haley Bonar's band (who he had worked with before) out for a few songs, and Haley also joined in with vocals on a couple of songs, which were among the highlights of the set. Another clear highlight was the song "Why," which is always such a treat live. I did not know this before, but Bird explained that the song was inspired by a college roommate, which I found quite interesting - I'd always assumed it was about a romantic relationship.

As with the Afternoon Naps show, Bird devoted a large portion of his set to new music. In this case, I might have preferred to hear a couple more familiar songs, because I don't get to see Andrew Bird nearly as often as the Naps, but I definitely enjoyed the new stuff as well. There were a couple new songs in particular that I really loved. Again, I can't give really detailed descriptions, but there seems to be a renewed focus on the violin in much of Bird's new music. I also enjoyed the lyrics of a song that used a film projector in a metaphor about the questionable reliability of human memory, a topic I find very interesting. Both Haley Bonar's and Andrew Bird's sets made this a truly excellent concert, and Bird's next album will most definitely be another must-have!

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