bonnie "prince" billy @ creation
(w/ the undercurrents)
so what to expect when one of indiedom's royalty visits the fair garden city? a long time purveyor of darkly seductive appalachia/ folk/ alt country under his bonnie "prince" billy moniker, will oldham has traversed many styles under various guises (and with many collaborators), with the recurrent theme being dark shadows lingering just under the often beautifully arranged surfaces of his songs. that, and gallows humour, with oldham having a fine appreciation of the camus-type absurdity of this bag of skin we carry through life and call self.
and as the opening strains of "nomadic revery (all around)" rang through the church hall stylings of the incredibly hot creation venue (and perhaps a small invention called air conditioning would have been nice, folks) it was obvious that menace and glee were to be the order of the night. backed by a sublimely telepathic band (that only formed three days before the tour, and featured dirty 3's mick – himself a certified genius - on keyboard duty) oldham cajoled, jumped, howled, whispered and screamed, as if channeling the savage ghosts of the murder ballads he seems so fond of. and with the gorgeous camilla thompson (daughter of the esteemed folkies richard and linda) as his vocal foil, i wasn’t sure if i was watching nancy and lee, gillian and ryan, or emmylou and gram - but when they hit those notes together my spine turned to rust... if they don't make an album together then the worse for the world.
as the band struggled through the noisy crowd (and why would you pay $40 to come to a show just to talk about power point presentations?), bureaucracy (would there be an encore?) and the unfamiliarity of the group, they constantly produced moments of sheer beauty and intensity. playing a range of billy tracks, but also some of his palace material (with a wonderful rendition of “riding” which lou barlow played on cd before his creation show nearly two years ago I recall), including “new partner”, a menacing “death to everyone”, “another day full of dread”, and a haunting “you will miss me when I burn”, the band consistently transcended the humility of the venue– it was as good a show as you will ever be blessed to see. and after a show that must have run near the two hour mark (but then again i didn’t wear a watch so i could be a liar) Oldham lived up to his enigmatic and contradictory bpb persona – both acquiescing to a request for “wolf amongst wolves” but delivering a new orleans carnival version of the (on record) tender and touching ballad - both maddeningly frustrating, but also undeniably amusing and surprisingly apt – i couldn’t help but think of that zimmerman cat as bpb consistently reinterpreted his own material, seemingly on the spot.
on a positive note the sound was better than great (compared to the many other possible venues for a show like this in chch) and the fact that it sold out may lead to similar shows in the future. what remains with me this morning after is a newfound desire to listen to bpb all over again – to experience that phenomenal voice that comes from such a surprisingly small frame (clothed in a pink shirt, shorts, and a baseball cap which was peculiar to say the least); to share that monumental vision that faces down man’s worst fears and desires and hammers them into song; to listen to the dirty 3 more often (a band that support act the undercurrents must have certainly heard a time or three); and to jump online and see if camilla thompson has any other recorded output.
it was a night that seemed thrown together almost as an afterthought, as does so much of bpb’s music. but the reality was altogether different – it was a humbling experience, and we should thank mystery girl for bringing an artist of such caliber out, and pray to one of oldham’s old testament gods that we get more acts like this over the rest of the year. if you missed this then you really are a fool - christchurch has been long starved of quality acts and this was a veritable feast of sound!
2 weeks ago