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Andrew BirdYou know the stars have aligned somewhere over Yolo County when Andrew Bird kicks off his California tour right here at the Mondavi Center in Davis. Shambling wispy-haired and lanky onto a black box stage strewn with various instruments, a pair of spinning gramophone speakers and a mascot sock monkey, he could not have played to a more loving audience Thursday night.

Bird often begins live solo shows with his mesmerizing violin loops, adding layer after layer of pizzicato, strumming, and bow. Suddenly he’ll put the violin back in its box, throw on a guitar, then play and sing, tapping the loop machine off and on with his foot as he adds feedback here, a vocal descant there. The result is an ethereal Shepard-tone illusion so beautiful you can’t turn away.

Yet Bird’s Mondavi show seemed particularly poignant, and human. With his signature trance-like head-wagging, he played a stripped down set that included old favorites such as the sweetly manic “Anonanimal” plus lots of rich, rustic soul-stirrers like “Three White Horses” and a cover of “If I Needed You” by Townes Van Zandt. He was untroubled by silence between songs. He forgot a word here and there, had to start one song over again. He broke into a bit of theatrical whimsy on “Why” (Why did you do that? Damn you for being so easygoing!) and moments of darker melodrama (You’re what happens when two substances collide/And by all accounts you really should’ve…died) during “Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left,” all with an imperfect elegance.

Pair this rumpled informality with exquisite musicianship and a voice that evokes the late Jeff Buckley, even the great Paul Simon, and Bird’s performance creates a powerful tractor beam no member of Thursday’s audience could resist. Discover more at the strange interactive website www.andrewbird.net or dig locally at your friendly Armadillo Music in Davis.

-Libby M