Chicago-area native Andrew Bird moved from Illinois six years ago, eventually settling into the sunnier climate of Southern California. However, it seems like he always flies north for winter. In December, Bird returned to Fourth Presbyterian Church for his seasonal Gezelligheid concerts. On Saturday, he performed solo for A Prairie Home Companion at Symphony Center. The violinist brings his band to Allstate Arena this weekend, opening for the Lumineers.
“I’m gearing up for a run through the Midwest,” says Bird. “It’ll be pretty frigid. I come back to the family farm quite a bit, so I still have a pretty strong connection to the area. Gezelligheid is a tradition now, too.”
Having built his local audience at intimate venues including The Hideout, playing a hometown gig in a hockey arena is different. “I haven’t really done the arenas so much,” says Bird. “I suppose it’ll feel like a festival – ‘throw and go,’ as they say. I’m guessing that 40 minutes will go by fast, and it’ll be really high energy.”
“I get very amped up for hometown shows, still,” says Bird. “I don’t think it’s ever going to feel like just another show. Sometimes I wish it would, because then I could calm down. I spent my formative years in Chicago, so anytime I’m back playing a song I wrote there, I’m thinking about where I wrote it and why as I’m playing it. Sometimes it is nice to play in Nebraska where you don’t have that baggage, but playing back home does bring out a vividness in the songs.”
Bird’s songs evolve as they’re carried from town to town. Occasionally, a version is preserved on album. This process is illustrated with a new Spotify EP called “Are We Not Burning,” containing commentary and iterations of single “Capsized” from Bird’s latest album “Are You Serious.” Dig further, and you’ll find another early seed in the Gospel-blues of “Trimmed and Burning” from 2002’s self-released “Fingerlings” CD.
“I’ve actually been, for the first time, cool with just playing it like it is on the record,” says Bird. “That’s unheard of, but it took so long to get to that version. But now, I’m actually starting to wriggle out of the confines of the song again. It’s inevitable. You play every night, and you keep pinching yourself to remind yourself to be musical. The biggest enemy is routine, so to keep messing with them is a device to keep the songs awake and vibrant.”
* Andrew Bird, with The Lumineers, 7:00 p.m. Jan. 20, Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont. Tickets $29.50-$59.50; ticketmaster.com.
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.