Will Oldham and Band Royally Rock the Wilbur Theatre, Boston | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 22nd, 2024  

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

Will Oldham and Band Royally Rock the Wilbur Theatre, Boston, May 17th, 2009

May 25, 2009 Photography by Michelle Salzman Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
Bookmark and Share

“When Cheyenne and I do tandem beer drinking it means we’re going to sing together,” Will Oldham announced after he and singer/fiddle player Cheyenne Mize simultaneously swigged from their beer bottles. They were onstage at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston last Sunday preparing to perform the duet “You Want That Picture,” from Oldham’s 2008 release Lie Down in the Light. Oldham was in a playful mood.

Messing around with his gear he produced a funny wah wah noise. “Anyone recognize this sound?” he asked the crowd. “It’s the sound in your brain after you’ve done a nitrous hit. Those engineers at Line 6 have worked long and hard on that.” Laughter bounced around the theater, which was near capacity.

Oldham—Bonnie “Prince” Billy when he’s performing—brought his singular brand of indie-rock Americana to the Bay State for a two-night stint in support of his recent release Beware, out this past March on Drag City. The previous evening he had packed the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, an intimate venue out in the western part of the state. Lighting Dust, an evocative and stark folk-rock outfit from Vancouver, and side project of psych-rockers Black Mountain, opened both shows.

In Boston, accompanied by a five-piece band—featuring a superlative Jim White of Dirty Three on drums—Oldham dipped into his vast back catalog of songs along with newer Beware tracks. And from the rich sound of opener “I Am Goodbye” to the superb sequence of “New Partner,” “Careless Love” and “Even If Love,” the crew was in top form.

Part of the beauty of seeing Oldham live is the way he’ll play around with the arrangement of his songs. Both nights “Hard Life,” a spare, earnest track on Master and Everyone, got a shot of adrenaline played onstage as a buoyant country tune. In a way it affirms a reoccurring theme in Oldham’s music that laying down a track does not render it finite. Hell, Sings Greatest Palace Music, the Bonnie “Prince” Billy release from 2004, was an album based on that premise: It was made up completely of Oldham reinterpreting his own tunes.

Oldham and co. took the audience through a long and winding set that was well executed. They made their way through fine versions of “How About Thank You,” “My Life’s Work,” and “I Don’t Belong to Anyone.” But some real highlights from the Boston show included older tunes. A warm, rambling “Gulf Shores” was very fine. There was also a raucous, fuzzy version of “Sheep,” and “Blood Embrace” sung bleakly by Oldham and then built up to a tremendous crescendo by the band.

One big difference with these shows, compared with performances on previous tours, was the lack of improvisation. Throughout the years, a hallmark of Oldham’s sets has been the room at the end of a show he leaves for requests. At both Massachusetts shows, the entire setlist was the final word.

Regardless, watching Oldham in his element—performing onstage and cracking deadpan one-liners—was a lot of fun. As the night came to a close, he announced that it was nice to have something in common with the building he was playing in. “We’ve both been derided with the word ‘Willlllllllbuuuuuuurr’” he whinnied, shaking his head in his best imitation of Mr. Ed. He then put the set to bed with a cheeky, cabaret-like cover of Floyd Tillman’s “I’m Still in Love with Every Girl,” singing and dancing merrily around the stage, knocking his knees together and making faces.

The full band for both Massachusetts shows was Oldham, Mize, Josh Abrams, Emmett Kelly, Jim White, and Pete Townsend. A sax player, (sorry, couldn’t get his name), sat in on a few songs Sunday night.


Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

May 26th 2009

great review! both shows rocked!

Nina Kurtz
May 26th 2009

This reviewer really transported me to the show! Great writer for a great performer.

Bart Smith
July 10th 2010

How do if i know its real? hes going to show me it but i dont wana but it if its fake. i could really use the money.