He's inordinately fond of whistling and old-timey Tin Pan Alley sounds. When his melodies aren't pointlessly complex, they're merely unnecessarily serpentine. And his lyrics are inscrutable and rife with $10 words unknown outside the thesaurus.
Any way you cut it, Chicagoan Andrew Bird is a most unlikely contender in the "American Idol" universe. But a pop star he has nonetheless become, with his new album "Noble Beast" recently debuting in the Top 20 on the Billboard albums chart, and a triumphant homecoming to two sold-out shows at the Civic Opera House.
Strolling onstage in his plaid thrift-store sports coat and tie at the first of these gigs on Thursday, the perpetually boyish Bird did some pizzicato violin-plucking, a bit of high-register yodeling and some low bass humming, using a foot pedal to digitally loop and layer these sounds until they formed the oddly orchestrated backing of his opening salvo.
"When I was just a little boy/I threw away all my action toys/And I became obsessed with Operation," sang the lad who no doubt once reveled in his junior chemistry set and home ant farm, as well as that old board game with the tiny tweezers and annoying buzzer, and things were off and running in their willfully eccentric way.
"I've always wanted to play here and never really thought I would," Bird said a short time later, surveying the regal setting and recounting his first visit at age 19, when he was dating a girl in the chorus.
At that point, the artist was joined by his three backing musicians on bass, guitar and drums. Though they were all fine players, Bird had been better off on his own, because then one could at least marvel at the novelty of his computer-enhanced one-man band (a trick borrowed from Kanye West's pal Jon Brion, by the way).
As the quartet navigated through the torturous waters of tunes such as "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left," "Anonanimal" and "Natural Disaster" (which prompted Bird to tell the same story about the Lusitania that he spun during a fawning interview with NPR's "All Things Considered"), the pretensions and the preciousness swamped the humble charms of his calculated shtick.
Heavy-handed dynamic shifts were no substitute for real musical drama, his whiny voice soon wore thin and the cold calculation of all those Rubik's Cube arrangements could not mask the sterile soullessness and lack of genuine emotion that remains the inescapable obstacle for this listener.
The biggest exception to these gripes: "The Giant of Illinois," which ended the set proper. Alas, that wasn't a Bird song but a cover by Chicago-to-New Mexico transplants the Handsome Family.
In the end, I could have a better Bird-like evening if I stayed home and started a stamp collection while playing a game of Scrabble limited to words in Latin as the History Channel airs a documentary about bread lines during the Great Depression in the background. And every couple of minutes, just for the heck of it and just like Andrew, I'd be sure to whistle while I worked.