Tuesday night's bill at The Fillmore in San Francisco was a rare treat: two musicians with new albums that I know and love — both of whom happen to be named Andrew. The evening started with the Spanish-flavored indie rock of Andrew Whiteman's Apostle of Hustle, which included two percussionists, one of whom was mostly devoted to playing bongos and maracas.
Whiteman — a skinny white boy with an uncanny ability to sing in Spanish and incorporate Cuban and mariachi influences into his music — was surprisingly charismatic on stage. Before launching into "Fast Pony for Victor Jara," he told the crowd to imagine a pony express rider on mescaline, carrying the head of George Bush. It turned out to be a remarkably apt description, just as Apostle of Hustle turned out to be a perfect palate wetter for the main dish, Andrew Bird (pictured here in 2005). To hear about Bird's set,
Bird is an otherworldly whistler and violin player, and because his albums (including the new Armchair Apocrypha) are so multi-layered, I expected him to bring with him a mini-orchestra. I was surprised, then, to see just Bird and two other players on stage — a bassist and Martin Dosh on keyboards — as well as a sock monkey dressed in smart suit like Bird's.
But even working with the somewhat limited potential of a drum machine, Bird managed to stretch his extraordinary songs — most of them from Armchair, plus crowd favorites like "Fake Palindromes" — into new shapes, with plenty of room to indulge his pizzicato plucking and xylophone playing. And despite my initial reservations about the lack of band, it was the Bird solo moments that I found most transfixing. Hearing Bird's bell-like voice and robust whistling in person and watching him switch from guitar to violin in an instant only enhanced my already high opinion of his musical talent.