11 January 2009

Bill Callahan

The Smogdog himself, Bill Callahan, played in Sydney's Hyde Park tonight in the first of five shows for the Sydney Festival. The venue, the "Famous Spiegeltent," looked a bit like an auctioneer's showgrounds, but proved to be a very intimate setting for Bill and Co. This was no ordinary Co., though. The Dirty Three's Jim White and Mick Turner accompanied him on drums and guitar, respectively, in what turned out to be the loudest Smog show I've ever seen.

On first impression, Bill looked like an almost entirely different person that the last time I saw him. Previously trimmed and suited, tonight he was sporting a Canadian tuxedo, hair to his shoulders, and a patchy beard to boot. All this can be evidenced by a very blurry photo:

I was surprised that the first song turned out to be "River Guard," for one because I've just recently started re-listening to Knock Knock, and two because I've never heard him play that song before. The rest of the songs (with the exception of two new ones) were all usual live Smog fare, though with the complementing sounds of White and Turner they were given a bit of extracurricular muscle. It was pretty clear they hadn't played together much before, and though White's drumming was free-flowing and exceptional, Turner occasionally appeared lost and often referred to notes in front of him. Bill chose to play a decidedly rock version of "Our Anniversary," which I felt took away a little from the brilliant lyrics, and Mick's guitar seemed a bit out of place. Of course Mick's a great guitarist, and he nailed it at least half the time, especially on the driving "Bathysphere" as well as the climax of "Say Valley Maker." That song is the absolute jam.

Two new ones seem extremely promising, though I know nothing of their names. One was an upbeat single-worthy song akin to "Sycamore." The other was an actual break-up song about him and Joanna Newsom. I didn't know he had it in him. I'm really excited to hear the new album, with the soaring and cryptic name "Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle."

The night ended with four "A River Ain't Too Much to Love" tracks- "Say Valley Maker," "In The Pines," "Rock Bottom Riser," and "Let Me See The Colts." He could play most anything off that album and I'd enjoy it, but as a last song "Let Me See the Colts" is perfect.

There's nothing like an excellent show from one of the best songwriters ever to end a good week.



Zach said...

Did he actually say the second one was a breakup song? Or that it was about Joanna Newsom? Just curious. He's rarely that transparent.

Cole & Emily said...

It is a bit of an anomaly for him to be that transparent, I agree. But that's how it appeared. He never expressly admitted it though.

The song went something like "Where'd she go? She needs my kiss, she needs my hand, in this godless land, and I need that history packed in her bag. Gone Billy." I read recently that they broke up, and in the Y's liner notes Joanna refers to him as Billy, so it makes sense that it's a song about her.

Andrea said...

Really? Did he really sing those words? That doesn't sound like anything on "Sometimes I wish we were an eagle."