Andrew Bird Credit: Ben Bowen for the <i>Chicago Reader</i>

Winter can be a stressful time, especially around the holidays, but Andrew Bird’s annual string of hometown shows at Fourth Presbyterian Church, which he’s christened “Gezelligheid” after the Dutch word for conviviality or coziness, have the potential to temporarily melt away seasonal anxieties. The multi-instrumentalist and songwriter has played in many settings throughout his illustrious career, and because I’ve seen him in a wide variety of them, I’ve concluded that these solo performances are where he’s most eager to explore. He revisits the lushly atmospheric, loop-based music of his early days using violin, guitar, glockenspiel, and voice—including his trademark whistle—creating the type of intimate soundscapes that he’s put on the back burner lately as he’s focused on full-band arrangements. On this year’s My Finest Work Yet (Loma Vista), Bird’s topical, witty lyrics guide the musicians as they beautifully blend a mostly acoustic palette with tight vocal harmonies. But at his church residency, without a band, he kicks back a bit. In the church’s familiar surroundings, he seems more relaxed; he’s sometimes goofy, he pulls out deep cuts he hasn’t performed in ages, and as cliched as it sounds, he gives the audience a good homey feeling. This year’s shows are particularly special, not just because Bird took last year off but also because he surprised his fans last month with a Christmas EP called Hark! In a promo video for the EP, he wonders why he released Christmas music while living in LA, not during one of the nearly 40 cold, harsh winters he spent in Chicago, finally concluding, “That sort of suffering is etched in my psyche.” Hark! is full of bittersweet, jazzy covers (including two Peanuts Christmas favorites) and originals that acknowledge the challenges winter can bring. On the chorus of opening track “Alabaster,” Bird sings, “Days are growing short / Nights are growing longer / Gotta get much stronger / To make it through.” Ultimately, though, Hark! isn’t a soundtrack for brooding in the dark—much like Bird’s Gezelligheid shows, it’s a soundtrack to warm the soul.   v