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Tuesday, August 19

Daniel Knox and Andrew Bird at Chicago Theatre

I needed this night so badly after the horrible week last week. I needed some hope. I needed to remember that people can be good, and that they can create beauty as well as destroy. I needed to remember that art and music can heal, even if only a little and even if only temporarily.

Daniel Knox at Chicago Theatre 4
Photo by pmonaghan on Flickr

On top of all of that, I was incredibly nervous for Daniel and his band. I wasn't nervous because I was afraid they couldn't handle it or that their music wasn't worthy. I was nervous because a group of people that large can easily dismiss the opening act, especially an unknown one. I've seen already famous Jeff Tweedy ignored opening for Patti Smith at The Riviera. I've even recently seen the Chicago Theatre audience turn on Willie Nelson, with about a third of the floor standing and talking through much of his set. I so wanted Daniel to have a good experience, and I so wanted Andrew's audience to give him a chance and get him, because on a good night, I don't think he could ask for a better group. Andrew's music demands active listening for it to unfold into full blossom. On Saturday night, Daniel and his band were about as good as I have ever seen them, and Andrew's audience gave them the best reception for a largely unknown opener I think I have ever seen in thirty seven years of concert going. Daniel's set was beautifully crafted, and the quiet Chicago Theatre space embraced his baritone and falsetto like they were made for each other. Andrew's audience responded in kind. His rolling songs and voice from another era grabbed the crowd, and his tales of eye-gouging ghosts, creepy hand lotion, loves past, and the Springfield of his childhood were more than enough to keep it.

And then Andrew came out.

Andrew Bird at Chicago Theatre 1
Photo by pmonaghan on Flickr

And good lord. I'm not a good enough writer with enough adjectives or finesse to describe his set that was at times luscious and at others stripped down to gather-round-a-mic-and-belt-it-out essentials. A single apparition with a violin backlit by a single large stage light started the set, which slowly built to a full band crescendo over the next few songs. Tift Merritt's presence only added to the gravitas and lent a slight grounded, country twang to music that Andrew's ghostly visions could sometimes use but that he just doesn't possess. (I have heard Rennie Sparks describe playing with Andrew as "like playing with a spectre about to disappear.")

Tift and the rest of Hands of Glory were an invigorating change from Andrew's normal band. I love that band, but there was something stripped down and a little more raw with this group, almost kinda sorta punk rock, that really pushed through all night. They played at least five Handsome Family songs, though in my reverie, I sorta stopped being able to think clearly enough to count.

My eyes welled up with tears at the sheer beauty of it all three or four times. I think I was overwhelmed by the fact that I can't comprehend how this all comes out of a human being's brain, how Andrew can even conceive of it and then have the talent to make it real, to put his musical and artistic vision into a concrete form that allows us mortals a tiny peek inside. And yet here it was. An accidental tour that had become this fully formed piece of breathing art of the...how many synonyms are there for the word beauty?

Poetry exists to allow words to point to ideas larger than themselves, to act as symbols, and I'm no poet. I think to describe what I'm trying to say here, I really need to be, so I'll stop.

Thank you Daniel. Thank you Andrew. Thank you Andrew Bird's amazing audience. Thank you incredible musicians.

If there was not beauty, there would be no beauty to destroy.

You can click through the entire set using the side arrows or go here to open in a new window and see larger shots.

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