When he takes the stage at the Fillmore Miami Beach on Monday, Oct. 8, Andrew Bird no doubt will present himself as the man his audience has come to see: a classically trained musician whose go-to instrument is the violin; an adventurous songwriter with a knack for baroque lyrics; an affable, articulate frontman; a rising indie-rock star whose music without hesitation can be called NPR-friendly; and, perhaps most famously, a prodigious whistler.
Of course, Bird remains this same person off-stage, only the confidence he exudes while fronting his carefully selected band and facing thousands of strangers in a darkened theater has a tendency to devolve into anxiety and diffidence. Away from the lights and the applause, the extrovert retreats and lets the introvert take over.
At least, that's the portrait of the musician painted by "Andrew Bird: Fever Year," the 2011 documentary that has been making the rounds of the nation's film festivals, racking up awards and acclaim in the process. (It will play the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival Oct. 23 and Nov. 3.) Directed by filmmaker Xan Aranda, "Fever Year" chronicles the final dates of Bird's 2009 tour in support of the album "Noble Beast," a grueling excursion that featured 165 performances, perpetual illness (hence the movie's title) and the artist's relentless pursuit of a perfect, elusive sound, all while trying to satisfy a strong need for experimentation and reinvention.
The movie, which Bird compares to Jonathan Demme's Talking Heads concert film "Stop Making Sense" for its quality as a "performance film and not a documentary, per se," offers little in the way of biographical detail, instead allowing the viewer to get to know Bird as he assembles his latest band, struggles with influenza, collaborates with St. Vincent's Annie Clark, retreats to his family farm in Illinois and battles with himself during the recording of his 2012 album, "Break It Yourself." Scenes of these recording sessions capture Bird at his least assured, as he appears unsatisfied with himself and the process. Never mind that he's seen creating one of this year's best albums.
"I need the audience to complete the picture," Bird says in a phone interview from his home in New York. "Recording puts you in a self-conscious loop of evaluating yourself. It's like when you call someone, and you hear your own voice on an outgoing message and go, 'Is that me? Is that what I sound like?' In the studio, you try to create the you that you think you are. It's all a recipe for self-doubt and madness, pretty much."
He is, he admits, a far saner person on stage.
"When I'm on tour, strangely, I feel more comfortable in front of a couple of thousand people than I do in front of a few people," Bird says. "I thrive on precariousness, the slight flush of embarrassment when I try something for the first time. That's something I try to make part of the show."
The loosest part of Bird's show, in which he says he is most apt to "call an audible," occurs during what he has dubbed "old-time sets." About midway through a performance, Bird, who employs loops and other effects in many of his songs, will gather his band around a single microphone and perform stripped-down versions of vintage folksongs, classic spirituals (Charley Patton's "I'm Going Home" is a favorite) and original numbers. On Oct. 30, Bird will release "Hands of Glory," a collection of songs from the old-time sets that he recorded over the course of four days, two at a studio in Louisville, Ky., and two at the Illinois farm. The standout track is a plaintive take on "If I Needed You," a typically haunted love song by the late folksinger Townes Van Zandt.
As low-key as it is, the recording, like the old-time sets themselves, reflects Bird's restless nature and his stated aversion to artistic contentment.
"I make music. I can never phone it in," Bird says. "I've always been a professional musician. I've always made my living from teaching music, busking, playing a Renaissance fair, a wedding, whatever. They can suck, but you just tell yourself, 'I can't let it suck.' There's an internal pressure to not let that thing that you do for a living be a drag."
When: 8:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8
Where: The Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave.
Contact: 305-673-7300 or Fillmoremb.comCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times