About five songs into his show Thursday night at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland, Andrew Bird paused to pay his respects to Prince. (Coincidentally, Bird’s previous show was Tuesday night at First Avenue in Minneapolis, the club featured in the movie “Purple Rain.”)
“I’ve got to say something,” he said. Then: “It makes me want to play better.”
He then performed “Puma,” a bright, poppy track from his new album, “Are You Serious.”
Bird can be a bit eccentric and cryptic, but like Prince, he is a virtuoso on several instruments, especially the violin, which he plucks, strums and bows, sometimes all in the same song. And when it comes to whistling, he lives up to his surname, sounding effortlessly and at will like a piccolo. He played guitar, too, and glockenspiel and created loops of it all, adding filigrees, textures and other dimensions to his songs, which have roots in folk, rock, world music and jazz.
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He and his three-piece band spent nearly two hours showcasing most of “Serious” and other parts of Bird’s catalog, some of it as quirky as Bird himself. For “Left Handed Kisses,” a “Serious” track that is a duet with Fiona Apple, Bird sang both parts, deftly executing the back-and-forth with himself. It gave levity to a song that seriously plumbs the mechanics of romance and relationships.
“Serious” was released only three weeks ago, but the crowd of 1,000 or so seemed familiar with most of its material. Older material received more vocal sounds of recognition, like “Imitosis” from his “Hands of Glory Album,” released in 2012.
The musicianship was stellar throughout the show, but the highlight was the stripped-down closing set, during which Bird gathered around one microphone flanked by two of his bandmates on guitars. They were in front of the drummer, who added soft percussion. The harmonies and guitar play were lovely.
They sang some covers — Neil Young’s “Harvest,” The Handsome Family’s “My Sister’s Tiny Hands” and the traditional “Railroad Bill” — plus some of Bird’s own material, like “Give It Away.”
Bird is working on a children’s TV show, and he played the theme song he wrote for it, “Professor Socks,” then closed with “The New Saint Jude,” an ode to the patron saint of hope.
The lyrics get a bit sardonic: “Ever since I gave up hope / I’ve been feeling so much better.” But, like most of Bird’s music, the song and its execution cast a spell of optimism and reaffirmed his tribute to Prince: Find something you love to do, and keep getting better at it.
Capsized; Tenuousness ; Lusitanis; Are You Serious; Truth Lies Low; Puma; Roma Fade; Left Handed Kisses; Three White Horses; Lull; Imitosis; Plasticities; Valleys of the Young; Pulaski at Night; My Sister’s Tiny Hands; Harvest; Give It Away; Railroad Bill; Professor Socks; The New Saint Jude.