There was an anxious buzz among the crowd headed toward the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park early Wednesday evening. Excited to cap off the late summer heat wave with a bittersweet ‘adieu’ to the season, yet suspiciously glancing toward the sky, hoping the Doppler radar would be wrong, and the impending storm would pass.
Margot Price finished up an electric opening set, and Marty Lennartz took the stage to warmly welcome Chicago native, Andrew Bird. By the grace of erratic summer weather, the storm had split just before hitting downtown, diverting to the north and south of the eager fans huddled beneath the metal beams criss-crossing over the city sky. With that, the crowd breathed a collective sigh of release. The evening was seamlessly underway.
Bird is touring his latest album, Are You Serious, in conjunction with the organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. “Everytown for Gun Safety empowers survivors of gun violence to share their stories and take action to spare other families pain.” Some of these families gathered on stage and shared the names and stories of the children, sisters, and brothers who were lost to gun violence in Chicago. $1 from every ticket sold went to Everytown. Today the “Pulaski at Night” video, in association with Everytown will be released on www.andrewbird.net. Bird states,
“‘Pulaski at Night’ is a song I wrote about my city, partially a love letter, partially the opposite. I want everyone to be able to walk or bike the streets of my hometown without fear of gunfire. I want to help, somehow, though it’s hard to know how to do that. Everytown for Gun Safety is an organization that takes on this issue with the kind of intelligence and grasp of reality that it takes to make a difference. I am proud to support and I hope that their work can create some positive change.”
Around 8:15 p.m., the clouds quite literally parted, welcoming Andrew Bird and his band to the stage beneath what turned out to be a star filled sky, well, as ‘star filled’ as the sky in the middle of the Loop can get. After playing great Chicago venues such as the Civic Opera House, Fourth Presbyterian Church, and The Hideout, Bird’s peaceful melodies were welcomed with open arms into the echoing air of a city that is in desperate need of peace.
Starting off the set, Bird kept his typical urban pace with a pastoral tone, reminiscing with the audience about his decades spent calling Chicago home, nostalgically gazing across the southern skyline.
He was soon joined on stage by Margot Price. Price, with her Stevie Nicks-esque vocals, contributed Fiona Apple’s half of “Left Handed Kisses,” a track from the new album. Andrew’s soft, melodic voice paired nicely with the sweet rasp of his counterpart.
After sharing a few more words on Everytown Survivors, the band slipped into their moving hometown classic, “Pulaski at Night”. By this time the show has brought out the stargazer in everyone. Couples lied prostrate on the lawn, staring at Frank Gehry’s silver beams slicing across the night sky. Most stay sprawled on the grass or seated. An eager few stood proudly, swaying with the music. No one seemed to mind.
Whistles soon filled the park, and “Pulaski at Night” came to its predicted halt. It was announced that this was bass/guitarist Alan Hampton’s last show for a while, as he is expecting a new daughter. At this point, they slipped into “Three White Horses”, which had the tone of a bittersweet exit overture. The moment seemed like it could have been an appropriate ending to a Wes Anderson film.
The disco ball that hung unnoticed over the center of the stage the entire evening suddenly erupted as if a star had busted at the seams, flinging specs of light to farthest corners of the stage, rotating counter clock wise along the side and back walls, disappeared into the faces beyond the missing fourth. Then the energy jumped, and the crowd was welcomed into an anthem of “Plasticities”. It was as if they were saying “Thank you, but we’re not done yet!”
“Scythian Empire” eventually closed out the set, with the lighting illuminating the band as if from an invisible fire that had erupted in the first three rows. The show ended on an encore, with an organic bluegrass note. The trio gathered around one mic, illuminated by simple white back lights. Until finally, in true Andrew Bird fashion, the set was ended with not a bang, but a chirp.