While a yearlong illness might derail the most fervent creative mind, Andrew Bird considered it his body's instinctive method of balancing artistic ambition with life on the road. In "Andrew Bird: Fever Year," a new documentary that catches him at the tail end of a long tour, Bird and his Twin Cities-rooted backup band are shown equal parts battered and humbled by an intense musical journey nearing its end.
The film centers on a pair of shows Bird played at Milwaukee's Pabst Theater in October 2009, and on the fever-inducing sickness he had been fighting for the entire year throughout the tour. The documentary, which director Xan Aranda describes as a "musical hot tub," toes the line between concert film and biopic, presenting an intimate look at Bird the musician.
Though Bird is a seasoned multi-instrumentalist whose genre-stretching chamber-pop has been selling out theaters for years, the fatigue and physical strains of the tour are apparent. In the film, Bird describes his condition as a "fever" he's had for nearly a year, and surmises it must be how his body adapted to the rigors of living as a traveling musician.
Even though Aranda had worked with Bird many times before, she admitted that their relationship didn't ensure a tell-all account of his life. "He had a lot of restrictions on what he wanted to share," she said, noting that even the best interview she got had to be prefaced with a bike ride and a good meal. Many of their discussions simply transition into long stretches of the urban and rural Midwestern landscapes he calls home, interspersed with beautifully shot performances and rehearsals. Bird's secrets seem better left untold, because the peeks into his offstage sonic explorations tell plenty about the creative process of the unorthodox, highly skilled musician.
It's hard to describe a live Andrew Bird performance without noting the communication and trust he has with those onstage, including a cameo from St. Vincent and the constant presence of Bird's Twin Cities-rooted backup band. In "Fever Year," Martin Dosh, Michael Lewis and Jeremy Ylvisaker all lend their insights, musical and emotional, on the experience of the tour and playing with Bird. "It's certainly a new experience for me," Dosh said of having a role in a film. "I don't think I came across as a pompous idiot, so that's a bonus."
The film's local premiere is Saturday at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, with Aranda, Dosh and Ylvisaker all scheduled to attend. Aranda is looking forward to the homecoming vibe the event will have for the musicians, and is excited to bring the film's distinctive portrayal of the reserved artist to the Twin Cities.
"What's a little bit for us is a lot for him," Aranda said of the access Bird granted for the making of "Fever Year." "What's in the movie right now is gigantic for him."