Thanks to the generosity of a wonderful friend, I’m just returned from a night at the world famous Ryman Auditorium. The tickets were for Andrew Bird “featuring” St. Vincent. I think one of Sasha Frere-Jones’ columns led me to buy the first St. Vincent album and Marry Me and later Actor have been centerpieces in the last few years of my existence. Marry Me, in particular, was the only album in my iPod setlist for most of the fall of 07 and spring of 08. When you develop that kind of relationship with an album, where it not only accompanies you to events, during decisions, and while conducting the mundane business of life, seeing and hearing it performed live is a transcendental experience. You are then and now, there and here. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried at the end of her set.
Her albums are tightly produced–radio length songs with her voice way up front. If the album is akin to having an assortment of fine cheeses at an excellent restaurant, the concert experience is like the whole dessert tray. Rich. Dense with sensation. Overwhelming at times. Either because the Ryman is a place where people sit (and don’t stand) and listen (but don’t sing along), or because of the power of her etherial voice and bombastic and distorted guitar riffs, I felt stunned, more than any other sensation.
Andrew Bird’s performance was similarly transfixing. (Transfixing?) At several points in the show, he plucked and bowed his violin, while singing and whistling (is there a better whistler in popular music? I think not.), with his guitar slung over his shoulder. You can’t help but pause and wonder at what a wonderful thing it is to have such talent. Such shockingly awesome talent. At times, it was a little difficult to shake the vocal similarity to Rufus Wainwright, who’s music is more familiar to me. It was also a little distressing to have the volume and randomness of fan intervention rise. I felt shouting song suggestions was so out of place given the thoughtfulness of the performance, and the wicked tight collaboration of the band.
With more sleep and internet research, I’ll have more thoughts on the vocoder sound of some of the whistling, and the shared use of looping live sounds. (And did I mention we were in the third row?) For now, I’ll just send out into the universe the hope that you also find something that feels so good, and true, personal and sublime.