As Xan Aranda’s concert documentary Andrew Bird: Fever Year opens, we are introduced to the then-36 year-old musician plucking his violin, humming and whistling into a microphone and looping the sounds as he begins to play a guitar and sing along. A lone figure on stage, the sound of Andrew Bird‘s one-man-band is even more impressive than that of the four-person line-up he toured with on over 160 dates in 2009. The final days of that tour are captured in Aranda’s film and culminate in him “limping over the finish line” on crutches at an intimate performance in a church in his hometown of Chicago.
Bird spent the tour perpetually ill—the fever in the title of the film is completely literal and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker describes him (with all intended puns) as a “sick baby bird”, drifting between hot sweats and shivers for the better part of the year. His ill-health is disguised each time he steps on stage, leaving audiences in awe of his elastic, jazz approach to his own tracks.
From the outset, it is clear that this is a film for established fans of Andrew Bird’s music. While the live performances that make up the bulk of the film are stunning enough to win over any viewers who had not been made privy to Bird’s infectious music, they may be left wanting to know more about the man—something that is lacking in the film. It is, after all, a concert film and not a rockumentary or intimate portrait of Bird. The most we get in that department is a brief sojourn to the Bird Family Farm where Andrew writes, records and picks vegetables from his garden when he’s not on the road—periods of time that, despite being a welcome break for his bandmates, make their frontman depressed.
Andrew Bird: Fever Year is a look at a dedicated, innovative and genuinely gifted artist whose passion for music is both visible and audible. Fans of Bird’s will adore the film when it premieres at the New York Film Festival on October 1.