Mar 6, 2012

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy @ Sydney Opera House

It's like that crazy uncle, the one with the raggedy hair and a strange walk, wandered on stage and starting playing. It would be like that if your uncle could sing like a bird and write songs like Dylan. Will Oldham is that man. A man of untouchable greatness when it comes to song writing. Forgive me here because I am about to gush. With good reason though. Oldham, or Bonnie 'Prince' Billy as he goes is a unique and stellar performer. A man who has been writing songs for many years that are emotionally complex and driven. Songs that make your heart ache and sing. Monday night at the Sydney Opera House, becoming a common venue, was special in so many ways. But above all it was about the music. Oh gracious music.

It turned out to be a night of many eras and times, surprise songs and great songs. They opened, for he played with The Cairo Gang, with a lesser known song in "Champion", which was immensely powerful and direct. We heard some old Palace numbers like "Pushkin" (pushed along in tempo) and "No Gold Digger". Nothing from "I See A Darkness" (sad face), but great songs like "Wolf Among Wolves" (also affected by tempo change). Of the recent songs I really loved the tunes from 2010's "The Wonder Show of the World", especially the thoroughly engaging "The Sounds Are Always Begging" and the starkly beautiful "Teach Me to Bear You". "Closing with "Go Folks, Go" was an inspired choice too as Oldham abandoned his acoustic and gave us extravagant hand gestures coupled with his interpretive dancing. Greatness was also achieved in the doom laden "New Whaling" and the wondrously melodic "Quail And Dumplings". This song was one of many that allowed Angel Olsen to show off her impressive pipes. Her voice is deep and resonant, a perfect counter to Oldham's higher registers. The other two band members were great too. Emmett Kelly was a concise hand on guitar and Van Campbell plied the drums with genuine subtlety. Oldham of course is the centrepiece. His voice is quavering, high pitched and vulnerable. But it can also be powerful and wide and deep. His presence on stage is a quiet power. As far as encores go this was nigh on unbeatable. It started with the modern day classic in "New Partner", followed by "Ohio River Boat Song" (it was great but I think I prefer the slower version). Then the band closed with a number that will stay with me forever. They went unplugged with only Kelly plying an instrument. Their voices then entangled with magnificent beauty as Oldham wandered about the stage serenading us with the traditional song "I Never Thought My Love Would Leave Me". A moment I will never forget.
Much like the two hours that preceded it.

Set List
A Beast For Thee
With Cornstalks or Among Them
Out Of Mind
No Gold Digger
No Match
Love Comes To Me
New Whaling
Wolf Among Wolves
Troublesome Houses
The Sounds Are Always Begging
Teach Me to Bear You
Night Noises
Quail And Dumplings
Go Folks, Go

New Partner
Ohio River Boat Song
So Everyone
I Never Thought My Love Would Leave Me (trad.)


  • At March 07, 2012 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thanks so much for the setlist. Was a great performance.

  • At March 07, 2012 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    thanks for the setlist. I'm with you - I prefer the non nashville version of Ohio River

    One question - is 'Champion' on any of his albums?


  • At March 08, 2012 , Blogger Wayne Massingham said...

    Champion was actually released on a 10" vinyl EP called "Chijimi" that came out in 2009.

  • At March 08, 2012 , Blogger Davo1965 said...

    Hi Wayne,

    Not sure if your on Facebook, but thought you might be interested, or disappointed you weren't in Wollongong yday.


  • At March 31, 2012 , Anonymous Geoff said...

    Went to his concert in Byron Bay, a few days before this one. Have to say this was probably one of the absolute best live shows I've ever been to, and there's been a few! If he comes back again he really is a must see. All power to you "Billie", and band!


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