One listen to The Swimming Hour, the new album by Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, and you'll know Bird has made a quantum leap in all phases of his sound. Gone is virtually any semblance of the "rooty-tooty '30s music" that informed his style on Thrills and Oh! The Grandeur, his first two releases. Now, Bird draws more covertly on virtually everything he's ever heard, and the result is a far more immediately accessible rock & roll experience.Bird has played St. Louis often enough in recent years that local audiences won't be caught unawares by the transformation; he's been dropping in new songs, such as the blistering rocker "Dear Old Greenland" and the jaunty bop number "Two Way Action" the last few times he's visited. Bird's violin is no longer the dominant instrument in his band; he's achieved a perfect union with guitarist Colin Bunn, bassist Josh Hirsch and drummer Kevin O'Donnell. All are creative, dynamic musicians who understand showmanship, as well as the necessity of stringing together original, intelligent solos.
Get to Off Broadway early enough to catch opening act Kelly Hogan and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. Hogan was a member of the unjustly underrated band the Jody Grind in the late '90s. Her new material falls somewhere between alt-country and sophisticated pop, as heard on her fine album of last year, Beneath the Country Underdog.