Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Directed by Xan Aranda
Andrew Bird’s music has been described as “unclassifiable.” Likewise, the movie that chronicles the last couple concerts of what Bird playfully names his “Fever Year” is also hard to categorize. An intriguing amalgamation of documentary and concert film, Andrew Bird: Fever Year provides incredible insight into the creative process of a truly unique musical talent and studies the immeasurable passion of an obsessive performer.
In 2009, Andrew Bird set for himself a grueling tour schedule comprised of 165 shows. The work that goes into such an intensive experience takes its toll on the performer. For much of the year, he suffers chills, sweats, and a persistent fever (giving the film its evocative title), but it’s a testament to his relentlessness that Bird interprets his fever not as a weakness but as his body’s attempt to evolve into “a different kind of animal perfectly adapted to the music hall.”
Xan Aranda, the film’s director, has built a relationship with the singer-songwriter over a series of joint projects, having worked on two of his music videos and the background visuals for his live shows. This intimacy comes across in the affectionate details of the portrait she assembles for her film. Aranda understands what makes Bird’s music and his personality great; therefore, her choices, both in a visual and narrative sense, add up to a very respectful depiction of this mad creative genius.
Undeniably one of the more appealing charms of the movie is its exploration of an artist’s exceptional, sometimes peculiar way of looking at his world. Bird’s irregular point of view results frequently in astonishing music and occasionally in absurdist lyrics. For instance, during one attempt at explaining his songwriting process Bird admits to inventing words not necessarily for their meaning but because of their cadence, like he did for the song “Tenuousness.” Also in regards to his songwriting methodology, it was very interesting to learn that he doesn’t write anything down. When he strikes upon something he likes, he simply hopes that it’s good enough to reoccur to him later.
Not surprisingly Bird also takes an unexpected approach to performing, preferring to keep it loose and, in his words, “malleable.” A mistake or mistiming in a performance doesn’t bother him. He chooses not to see it as a failure but as a natural part of the live experience, a chance to distinguish one show from the one before it. Even his bandmates attest that they hate it when a show feels too controlled or too “perfect.”
At one point in the film, Bird describes the microphones of his recording studio as the worst kind of audience. He thrives on the feedback he can get from a concert setting. Again and again he honorably demonstrates that making music is no act of self-indulgence but an opportunity for him to connect with other people. His touching commitment to fans of his music shines abundantly clear in the message of Fever Year. Those fans will love this film for its insights on his musical philosophy and the reflections on his hard-earned success. And for those who have not yet heard of Andrew Bird, Fever Year is guaranteed to earn him scores of new admirers. (I can name at least one.)
- Kenneth Broadway
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