Amadou & Mariam played a joyful set of nearly 15 songs for an hour’s worth of music. They brought zeal for music's sake and the zest that only comes with West African music. The blind Malian couple (Amadou Bagayoko on guitar and vocals and Mariam Doumbia on vocals) were backed by one of the tightest rhythm sections to grace Red Butte Garden in some time.
Churning out guitar parts that tottered between searing Americanized rock licks and circular African polyrhythms, Amadou swayed and bounced alongside Mariam, who would sing in French and Bambara -- a native language of their home country -- songs of hope, political critique and general storytelling. Songs such as “Africa,” “Masi te Ladi” -- the best song of the set -- "Tuvi" and “La Realite” -- which had a phenomenal percussion bridge, where the djembe player slapped his main instrument and bongos simultaneously -- demonstrated the highlights of an extensive career. Throughout the set, there were breakout moments for the band, where the players would unfold spontaneous moments of expression, to which the crowd jumped out of their sets and danced.These were the liveliest moments of the evening.
“Beaux Dimanches” off of Dimanche a Bamako, an album produced by the sly and cunning French musician-cum-producer Manu Chao, ended their set. This 2005 release is what propelled the duo, after decades of music making, to more notoriety stateside, and for that we are grateful.
The show could have ended there, and it would have made for a perfect evening of music. But, lo, it was only to get better.
Andrew Bird represents everything that it means to be an artist: pure passion, deliberate and thoughtful lyrics, uninhibited creativity --and he’s a multi-instrumentalist who can whistle like a mofo.
The Chicago native and Northwestern graduate in violin performance began the set by himself -- as he’s performed off and on throughout his career, which began with his first solo release in 1996 -- eliciting the the magic of his loop and effects pedals to draw out a variety of layered tones and melodies from his violin. He pieced together “Hole in the Ocean Floor.” Afterward, he was joined by his band -- Martin Dosh (a genius in his own right), Jeremy Ylvisaker and Mike Lewis -- for an interlude before “A Nervous Tic Motion Head to the Left.”
“Hello ... I’ve been looking forward to playing here for a long time,” the indie-rock composer ne plus ultra said as he greeted the crowd. And that anticipation showed throughout this near-perfect performance. The three members of his backing band seemed just that this evening, a backing band meant to serve as a canvas for Bird to paint madly over (think Jackson Pollock with a violin). Although it seems cliched, Bird is a mad scientist; he contorts his effects and instruments as he fervently, if not spastically, shakes and feels the music. Moments like when his knees would buckle as if he were punched in the stomach when singing showed the engaged songwriter at work. Most of the audience sat this evening, but with mouths agape and in awe. And that attention wasn’t directed at Sock Monkey, the nameless stuffed animal that sits on stage each night -- “It’s good to have some constant companionship,” he told WERS (88.9 FM) -- and is often in Bird’s photos on his Facebok page; however, the monkey, along with the rotating double gramophone, were interesting backdrops.
Bird et al performed approximately 20 songs in total. There were subtle, yet unforgettable moments where one could hear crickets during the softer sections of a song (“Fatal Shore”); there were times when the band, like how they recorded the most recent album Break It Yourself, were pulling it together and letting it go, as if they didn't know what was about to happen and neither did the audience (“Desperation Breeds,” “Orpheo Looks Back”); and there were moments when Bird dipped into his older material to cheering fans (“Anonanimal,” “Plasticities,” “MX Missiles”).
As a side note, his fans love him. Don’t you wish you had a Tumblr fan page titled FuckYes[YourNamehere].Tumblr.com? For instance, once, when a fan yelled “Fuck yeah,” it was merely in response to Bird describing to the audience that, oddly, the band had played at many botanical gardens this summer -- botany really is cool. He could have said anything, though, and it would have been cool.
Bird’s signature, operatic, ambient whistle and the plucking and bowing of his violin added complementary textures to the overall aesthetic; the textures would become heavy, robust and loud (“Eyeoneye”) or singular and light, like on the “old-timey” tunes that the band played mid-set. The latter was a real treat. Bird introduced the unplugged material as songs that the band was currently recording for an album, Hands of Glory, to be released in the fall. This pleasant surprise included a reworking of “Give It Away” and a new song,” Three White Horses.”
The band again went old-timey for the first two songs of the encore -- first on a Townes Van Zandt cover of “If I Needed You” and then on another new song, “Railroad Bill.” Then, Bird created a loud, near-cacophonous, wall of sound to reach the set climax and end the show with a tune from The Mysterious Production of Eggs, “Fake Palindromes.”