Bonnie “Prince” Billy displays “odd and charming” personality at the IMC on Friday, March 13

Will Oldham is odd. Odd and charming. In an age when so many frontmen have to try really hard to act weird and aloof, here is Will Oldham, still strutting around stage, flashing exaggerated grimaces at the audience, and occasionally grabbing his crotch—and it all seems like the most natural thing in the world. Friday, March 13 at the Independent Media Center, Oldham and his backing band, (including the amazing Cheyenne Mize on violin and the legendary Jim White of The Dirty Three on drums), put on a memorable performance, to say the least.
First, opening band Begushkin broke the ice with what I might be inclined to call “boogie stoner rock.” These guys were definitely channeling Neil Young, the Grateful Dead, The Animals or something equally non-current. While a formula like this has proved successful for bands like Howlin’ Rain, I could not get past the singer’s over-the-top lyrics, some of which involved passing through the Valley of Death and children crying from the bottom of a well and other things similarly silly and purposely weird. What worked in the ‘60s doesn’t always work now. On a related sidenote that adds to the review, the singer looked like he might have been falling asleep onstage.
The main event, however, was over the top in the best way possible, with Bonnie “Prince” Billy suffering and celebrating along with the characters in his songs—sometimes seeming to ooze hostility, and other times begging for our sympathy and understanding. Hearing him shriek out the chorus on “Death to Everyone,” I got the feeling that at that moment, he really was announcing the end of life as we know it.
Highlights of the performance include the heartfelt rendition of “I See a Darkness,” and the humorous, yet earnest “The Girl in Me,” which had Oldham and Cheyenne switching gender roles and creating one of the most surprising duets I’ve ever heard. The chemistry between the two actually became an important part of the show and early on, the two seemed to be singing directly to each other, to the point where I wondered if we weren’t perhaps intruding on something.
Other memorable moments of the set were Oldham’s amazing story of Macedonian villagers who hold competitions to see who can find the oldest cassette recording of Turkish songs (yeah, I’m still not sure what to make of that), an incredible performance of “You Can’t Hurt Me Now,” from Beware! (the new Bonnie “Prince” Billy album), a plaintive song about the elusiveness of happiness, and the final song, an impassioned cover of “Club Mekon” by The Mekons. And who could forget the touching moment when Oldham lamented the coldness of city life, conjuring up an image of flowers budding in the countryside and going on to announce that he and the band are moving to Puerto Rico to play in the warm weather four nights a week. Oh, and we’re all invited.

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