Monday, November 06, 2006

BONNIE PRINCE BILLY AND UNCA LOU

It's usually either feast or famine when it comes to out of town big names stopping off here behind the Emerald curtain. Last week we had the one-two punch of alt country warbler Bonnie Prince Billy (aka Will Oldham) and eternal would be badass Lou Reed. Any guesses on which show was better?

Last Wednesday Bonnie Prince and his band (which included one of my recent big faves Azita on keyboards) rolled into the Synapsis Gallery in Eureka, an art space that's fast becoming the place where most of the coolest shows are happening. From noise damage bands like the Magik Markers and a great local production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, this seems to be where creative stuff is thriving. Opening the show was Dawn McCarthy of Faun Fables, who played a show here a few months ago that I missed. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, she held the place spellbound, appropriately singing a song dedicated to the Day of the Dead. She did edgy originals, a great version of the folk classic the House Carpenter, a Greek war threnody and an acapella celtic stomp/dance (which sounded great on the hardwood floors of the studio). McCarthy has an amazing voice, and she showed it off to great advantage.

As on his recent live record Summer in the Southeast, Will Oldham rocked up several of the more fragile songs in his catalogue with a fully amplified band. Oldham's an actor, a weirdo and one of the best songwriters around, sketching dark perverse tales that belie their sometimes mellow settings. Songs like the recent Cursed Sleep assumed a powerful grandeur with the big arrangements, but occasionally the more subtle songs got buried in the din. As for the the Bonnie Prince himself, he was as weird as one would expect, doing strange yogic postures while strumming his guitar, making odd faces and he later howled like a wolf (to be fair that was on the tune Wolf Among Men). He played an Everly brothers tune, and a heavy selection of songs from his most recent record, which I think is great, so no complaints on that score. McCarthy joined for backing vocals for the last part of the set (as she did on The Letting Go) which added to the density of their sound. One of the best rock shows I've seen in a long time, with an intimacy and looseness that I'll bet the band didn't show in their big city gigs.

Well, Lou Reed didn't do any wolf howls (unfortunately). I lucked into some free tickets and got to spend Saturday night seeing Unca Lou singing hardly any of the songs you wanted to hear, and playing long interminable one chord noise "solos". He did do a pretty kicking encore version of Street Hassle backed with the sawing double bass drone.

These verses from his song Rock Minuet drove a whole row of people out of the Van Duzer Theater :
In the back of the warehouse were a couple of guys
they had tied someone up and sewn up their eyes
And he got so excited he came on his thighs
when they danced to the rock minuet

On Avenue B, someone cruised him one night
he took him in an alley and then pulled a knife
And thought of his father as he cut his windpipe
and finally danced to the rock minuet
Yikes Lou!

I would have felt cheated if I'd paid 55 bucks, but his little asides (and his Nico impression) and cranky temper tantrums (he bitched about his own dry ice machine) were kind of funny. It reminded me of seeing Chuck Berry at Disney World when I was ten. Going through the motions, but those motions had some faint trace of greatness. The trace was pretty damn faint though.

UPDATE: A few days later at a cybertech gig, Lou was just as cranky (but at least he did Sweet Jane there).

Here's some video.

(via boing boing)