Andrew Bird Brings Much Needed Warmth to the Midwest at Gezelligheid

Arts Contributor Angelina Torre experiences the return of Andrew Bird’s seasonal Gezelligheid concerts at Fourth Presbyterian Church


Angelina Torre

Andrew Bird (left) and Alan Hampton at Gezelligheid in Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church

By Angelina Torre, Arts Reporter

At Fourth Presbyterian Church on December 9, the pews were filled but the pastor was missing. Instead, standing in the chancel was indie folk-pop artist Andrew Bird. Bird’s seasonal Gezelligheid concerts at Fourth Church have been a beloved tradition since 2009, excepting a brief hiatus during the pandemic. This December’s Gezelligheid was the first of its kind in Chicago since 2019—a much-anticipated resurrection. All seven nights of performances were sold out.

The word “gezelligheid” doesn’t have an exact English translation. Bird first encountered the word at a crowded bar in Amsterdam, when it was uttered by a woman who squeezed herself in next to him on a frigid night. The closest translation he found was “coziness.” Or, more accurately, “the pursuit of those things which get us through the darkness.”

A Chicago native himself, Bird is familiar with the bleakness of the Midwestern winter and hopes his concerts offer a bit of warmth amid the cold. Though I sat in an audience of several hundred, Bird’s performance conjured the intimate feeling of a post–Christmas dinner performance in one’s living room. Only instead of cousin Tabitha’s vocal arias, it was Andrew Bird’s plunky pizzicato and sonorous whistling that graced our ears before dessert.

Bird’s set began with “Hole in the Ocean Floor,” a largely instrumental tune that Bird played on his violin. Though alone, Bird’s sound did not feel singular. He used a looping mechanism to build one layer of music on top of the other, creating an effect that felt textured. First came short plucks of pizzicato, then long, smooth bows, a bit of strumming, and finally Bird’s vibrato-richened whistling and baritone vocals.

The enveloping effect of the music was accentuated by the oversized, gramophone-like speakers on stage, two of which sat on either side of the stage facing the audience and two others that rotated, sending distorted sound around the space.

Next, Bird performed “Make a Picture” from his latest album Inside Problems—an assemblage of music Pitchfork called “a warm, collaborative record that feels like a balm for fear and loneliness.” Here, he was joined by bassist and guitarist Alan Hampton, who also provided rich vocal harmonies and a light sense of humor to match Bird’s own.

The two remained on stage together for the rest of the concert. They played “Glad,” an instrumental tune Hampton composed, and “Night’s Falling,” from Bird’s holiday album, Hark!, before ending with “Inside Problems,” the album’s titular track. Bird forgot a lyric or two while performing the latter but was quick to recover with confidence.

There were a few such mishaps during the concert, including a number of false starts and a broken speaker that emitted blasts of noise like a self-imploding drum set. But each time they came up, the blunders were addressed with light-hearted ease. (After the speaker appeared to blow out, Bird turned to the audience and lifted a finger to his lips.) The opening night kinks made the night more special—as if we all were in on a joke with Bird himself.

Each night of Gezelligheid featured a new track Bird was trialing for an upcoming jazz album. The audience on the opening night heard “Django,” a swinging tune that felt like an eclectic indie-jazz fusion in true Andrew Bird fashion.

Bird welcomed Shara Nova on stage to sing around an old-fashioned mic for the next two songs, “Andalucia” and “Alabaster.” Nova, the lead singer of alternative indie band My Brightest Diamond, shined on stage in a silver-sequined outfit. Bird and Hampton stood on either side of her, dressed in dapper suit jackets and ties.

Throughout the concert, colored lights showered the chancel with warm hues, illuminating the towering stained glass behind the stage and casting long shadows on the walls. The brighter the lights, the stronger the silhouettes of the audience in front of me. When Bird performed “Sisyphus,” I watched as the audience nodded their heads along to the punchy beat.

Bird saved “Pulaski at Night” for his penultimate number, invoking his youth in the Windy City. “Come back to Chicago/ City of, city of light…” To end the night, Bird performed his rendition of the traditional farewell-tune-for-the-old-year, “Auld Lang Syne.”

“At one point I knew all the verses, but it’s kind of a thing not to know all the verses,” he quipped.

Though “coziness” may not feel immediately achievable in a space that seats more than a thousand, Bird’s harmonious melodies along with Fourth Church’s bounding acoustics crafted an experience that felt intimate.

As a child, Bird used to come to cavernous spaces like Fourth Church and play a single note on his violin for hours simply to hear how the sound bounced off the walls and danced around his ears. At Gezelligheid, Chicago natives come from all corners of the city to watch Bird send his music swirling into the cold midwinter.