photo courtesy of Shawn Brackbill
Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang played three sold out shows (200 capacity each) between April 1st and 2nd at the Monster Island Basement in Brooklyn. Thursday night offered 2 performances: an early 8pm show followed by a second one at 10:30. Friday there was a single show at 8pm. I was lucky enough to attend the early show on Thursday and it really was as eccentric and singular as Mr. Oldham himself.
I saw Mr. Oldham when he was touring for the release of Master and Everyone years back, and most recently at the Apollo supporting his last LP, Beware. For both of those shows Mr. Oldham was supported with a band (and each performance was excellent). But last week it really was something special to be in such a small room, and to have the unique experience of being able to just share the music with the man himself.
The venue was nothing more than a raw basement with a slightly raised stage on one end, two minimally built out bathrooms and a dump sink on the other, and a back room where special drinks were being concocted. The audience was instructed to sit in front of the stage because there would be no amplification for the show. As uncomfortable as it was, most of the crowd (of 200 people) jammed in as closely as possible, sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor.
Dressed in a plain t-shirt and carpenter pants, Will Oldham took the stage along with his partner for the evening, Emmett Kelly of The Cairo Gang. Aliases aside, Oldham and Kelly spent the hour-plus set mostly covering ground from their new LP, The Wonder Show Of The World.
It was a captivating performance of voice, guitar, and occasional melodica. Mr. Oldham sang just loud enough to project over Mr. Kelly's guitar. The show literally could be described as "a couple of guys sharing their songs" right there with the crowd gathered. At one point towards the middle of the set, Mr. Oldham expressed his appreciation for being able to play a show without microphones or amplifiers. He added that he was grateful for the opportunity be able to play directly to the people in the room, in a way that is simple, natural, and very much in the moment. The music was happening in it's most natural setting and it was abolutely enthralling.
I have to say, it was definitely one of the best shows I have seen lately. Watching and listening to Mr. Oldham and Mr. Kelly, I was reminded of the acoustic performance of The Magnetic Fields at Town Hall I caught last month. These two performances were just so refreshing in that each one was simply ALL about the music, and nothing else. Not the volume, effects, tricks, lighting, stage antics, or any upstaging that usually goes with live performances.