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Andrew Bird at the Civic Opera House Chicago

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Tragedy struck Thursday in the first of two sold-out Andrew Bird concerts at the opulent Civic Opera House. Birds musical weapon of choice his violin --- was mortally wounded when it slipped from his hands near the end of the show, crashed to the stage and cracked in two.

Bird soldiered on to the finish without his most trusted accomplice, but it did put a damper on the 100-minute homecoming performance. Once a quirky swing-jazz maverick, the lean, soft-spoken artist is selling out theaters around the country with a patchwork style that pieces together everything from Eastern European classical music to bluegrass. Hes still quirky, in other words, but now hes really, really popular.

How about this, huh, he said as he gazed up at the packed balconies. I always wanted to play here, but I never thought I could.

His style is at once homespun and high-brow, as reflected by his attire: suit, tie and stocking feet. While Bird flitted among several instruments, including electric guitar and glockenspiel, he was most at home plucking or bowing his ill-fated violin, an instrument he has studied seriously since he was a child.

When he blasted away with considerably less nuance on guitar, he and his three accompanists sounded like just another boisterous garage-rock band, perfectly bland. But when caressing his violin and puckering up for a whistle solo, he sounds unlike anything in the indie-pop world.

On record, Bird holds his listeners at arms length. He makes exquisitely remote music, full of oblique multisyllabic words and entrancing sounds that sometimes feel cut-and-pasted together. But seeing Bird perform adds another dimension to his technical expertise. From the opening Dark Matter, he was immersed in the moment, his eyes closed, his head bobbing and swaying as he built layer upon layer of sound and then electronically orchestrated the swirl of wordless harmonies, whistled melodies, swooning violins and chiming glockenspiel into a one-man mini-symphony.

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