Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Live Last Night

Live Last Night

It's not that Will Oldham is a scary looking dude. He's just an odd looking fellow. He has the face and, especially, beard of someone whose portrait would have been painted on a battlefield somewhere in 1862. Yet he still wore a hint of eye shadow, like he was a cleanup hitter during a day game, to go along with 10 fingers worth of baby blue nail polish Saturday night at a sold-out Birchmere. Along with his tucked-in, checkered shirt and blue jeans he looked like the inhabitant of his own universe. His songs function in a similar manner. Most of his output over the better part of the last two decades is based on some variety of folk music played with punk ethos. It's not the most singularly inventive sound, but each of his songs is unmistakably on Oldham creation, much thanks to his deadpan drawl and stark lyrics.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

Watching him perform as Bonnie "Prince" Billy with his band, which featured anywhere from five to seven backing musicians depending on the song, was akin to an Alan Lomax-like voyeuristic thrill. It was as if Oldham and his cohorts had shuffled out of whatever nook of the deep countryside they alone had inhabited for generations to play their sweeping doom folk. That's not the case -- Oldham is also an actor, one who has appeared in movies with starlets such as Amy Adams and Michelle Williams. But the effect was more than convincing and resulted in 90 minutes of rousing backwoods ballads that often sounded like a (slightly) less apocalyptic, Appalachian version of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Songs such as "Today I Was An Evil One" and "Just to See My Holly Home" bubbled up into celebratory almost-hootenannies with Cheyenne Mize's violin and the dual drumming of Jim White and Pete Townsend (it's spelled differently, see?) helping to create a swirling, yet controlled cacophony. You could almost square dance to it but a quick listen to Oldham's lyrics might make you feel guilty for doing so. "In come babies one, two, three/Like to bounce them on our knee/Want to stay and grow up with us/Baby stew will surely fill us," he sang on "Holly Home."

That nonchalant attitude towards death crops up often in Oldham's songs but it never led to dreariness on Saturday night. In fact, the show was pretty life-affirming. Every song had a clear pulse and the frequent multi-member sing-alongs gave it the feel of a religious revival. This might not be a religion to join -- what with the baby-eating and all -- but the house band sure can't be beat.

--DAVID MALITZ

By David Malitz |  May 25, 2009; 12:03 PM ET Live Last Night
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