Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bonnie "Prince" Billy--Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Bloomington, Indiana

I went and saw me some Bonnie "Prince" Billy last Thursday. It went like this:

Azita, a piano/vox solo artist, a Fiona Apple type except shitty, opened and underwhelmed. Her songs were just OK, employing some decent turns of phrase, but my mind wandered during her set. Only her penultimate song stuck out and I don't remember its name. I got the feeling like she really wanted to belt, just let loose and sing to the back of the room, but she couldn't. Ah, well. Sometimes you eat the bar, and, well, sometimes you have to listen to Azita for 30 minutes. Lady sure could pound a beer, though, and that's alright.

Begushkin, the "eastern influenced" second act led by Something Smith, were quite enjoyable after the borefest that was Azita. And I suppose they were kind of vaguely eastern influenced, if "eastern influenced" means "fingerpicked guitar." Regardless, Begushkin were very good--interesting songs and song structures/arrangements, evocative lyrics, a three-guitar attack: picked, strummed, slide. Also, the drummer was excellent and the slide guitarist had an outstanding beard and looked like Levon Helm. Their stage presence was a bit off-putting, though. It didn't feel as though they were enjoying themselves--particularly frontman Smith. They weren't engaging performers--no chatter, no banter, no thank yous, nothing until Tightshirt Giantscarf Smith said "thankyouverymuch" right before they left. Perplexing.

And then came Bonnie "Prince" Billy to play a set shot through with God and bodily things, harmony and humor. He started with four-odd songs from the forthcoming Beware, which were pretty great, possessing a happy/satisfied vibe. From the sound of things, Beware picks up mood-wise where Lie Down in the Light left off. Then came my favorite part: "the grimly humorous portion of our set," i.e., the established, known songs, which included an astonishing "Strange Form of Life", "Love Comes to Me", a couple cuts from Ease Down the Road (an album I am not familiar with), and a clutch of songs from Lie Down: the title track, "(Keep Eye on) Others Gain" (what a great tune--complex thematically, simple musically), "You Remind Me of Something (The Glory Goes)", "Easy Does It" (to open the encore), "I'll Be Glad" (the dopest), and "For Every Field There's a Mole". My absolute favorite moments of the show came toward the end, when Oldham and violinist/vocalist Cheyenne Mize duetted/genderfucked on what I think was a cover whose refrain was along the lines of "the girl in me/the man in me." What made it great fun was the gender switcheroo (Mize sang the "boy" parts, Oldham the "girl" parts), and the tacit acknowledgment that even the burliest dudes have some frill about them. Plus Oldham and Mize had a nice Gram/Emmylou thing happening.

Some notes about Oldham's backing band. In addition to Mize's adept fiddling and harmonizing, the group is filled with intuitive musicians: Emmett Kelly on guitar (tight), Josh Abrams on upright bass, and, a special treat, Jim White on drums. It was really cool to watch/hear White drum. He is as animated as anyone I've seen behind a kit, and his loose, improvisational style is something special--and worked fantastically with Oldham's later material, particularly that from The Letting Go and Lie Down in the Light. White doesn't seem like a drummer as much as he seems like the impression of a drummer, and his work brought a spectral quality to the set that was oddly anchoring. I just blew your minds.

Then on Friday morning the Bonnie Prince played an in-store at Landlocked, so I dipped out of work with my office mate and partook. The six-or-so songs included "There Is No-one What Will Take Care of You" (interpolating the first verse of "Jack and Diane" just for us Hoosiers), and a smattering of others, and that was it, despite a request that he "do, like, a ten-song medley." In all, the in-store was rad because it was free, impromptu, relaxed, and generous. Among the 50-ish attendees were some old people and a couple strollers. Will Oldham: Kid friendly since 2009.

--Brian Herrmann


Alex said...

Good review.

However, one thing that bothers me about Bonnie "Prince" Billy is how the albums are inconsistently labeled on iTunes. For instance I See a Darkness, Greatest Palace Music, his Daytrotter session, and Ask Forgiveness all list him under Artist as Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Quotation marks around the "Prince." Now, Lie Down in the Light labels him as Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. A mere apostrophe, which results in two separate entries on my iPod. I can't have this. This has also happened with Secret Machines (Ten Silver Drops) vs. The Secret Machines (Now Here is Nowhere); and to the completely absurd with Dinosaur Jr (Without a Sound, Green Mind) vs. Dinosar Jr. (period added, this happens with Bug, Beyond, and You're Living All Over Me). This is absurd because I thought it was well established that it was "Dinosaur Jr" with no comma or period. I've found this to be a real bother.

Brian said...

You can normalize artist names so easily. Select some stuff, right click, select "get info" or "properties" or whatever your computer says, and then in the Artist box, type whatever name you want, click OK, and like magic the artist's name will change. Also, the "apostrophes" around 'Prince' are still quote marks, just single quotes (') instead of double quotes ("). Just saying.

lil' elF said...

oh brother. Do what Brian says! Don't let iTunes control you.

lil' elF said...

Thank you for the Will Oldham review. Did he look dead sexy?

Brian said...

Dead flippin' sexy in his all-black regalia and intimidating handlebar mustache.

Jim P. said...

I've changed all of my BPB and Palace, etc. to Will Oldham in iTunes. It works. Other bad offenders are CYHSY vs. CYHSY!, and Godspeed You Black Emperor! v. Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

I just realized I haven't listened to Godspeed in forever. They're good.

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