The Bonnie 'Prince' Billy show began with a 'band' called Title TK that only played the between-song banter. Artist Cory Arcangel, wearing a Slipknot T-shirt and flat-brimmed hat, came on stage at Carnegie Lecture Hall, with sidekicks Alan Licht and Howie Chen. They all wore electric guitars with no cords, and started obsessing over "Heroes" actress Hayden Panettiere.
That discussion dragged on and on, prompting a call of, "ARE YOU GOING TO PLAY MUSIC?"
They laughed, noting it usually takes longer for that complaint to be waged. They didn't play any music, they just boldly (and stupidly) spent a half-hour carrying on a strained, intermittently funny conversation about what TV shows they watch, whether the Internet is aware of the late '90s and what artists they think are from Pittsburgh (Don Caballero..correct!).
When the headliner stepped on stage just after 9, the same guy hollered, "ARE YOU GOING TO PLAY MUSIC?"
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, looking very much the veteran folk troubadour in jeans, navy button-down and vest, went about the business of tuning his guitar, leaving that question hanging in the air.
BPB (Will Oldham), at least at that point, was all business. Flanked by singer-bassist-violinist Cheyenne Mize and guitarist-singer Emmett Kelley, Oldham launched into "Big Friday," singing," You saved me from melting, baby..." His vocal and the quiet accompaniment sounded pristine in the theater, which I'm convinced is the only type of venue, save for a front porch, in which you'd want to see him.
For the next 90 minutes, the trio walked a line between fragile folk and backwoods acoustic rock. Oldham keeps you on your toes with lyrics that go from gentle and loving to dark and lonely on songs that don't always abide by the structure of verse-chorus-verse.
It was fun to see him blow it out on the uptempo "At the Break of Day" and "You Remind Me of Something (The Glory Goes)," because he could probably out-rock most of the country rockers if he wanted to, but those songs were the exceptions. They clung mostly to songs with a lower pulse, wrapping their voices around each other beautifully. It was especially striking when Mize's sultry purr would slide under his, as it did on "Lay and Love." It didn't get any honest and pretty than their a cappella reading of "Careless Love" (briefly interrupted, quite rudely, by the sound of "droooid") with some stunning held notes.
As the set went on, Oldham did end of goofing around with the crowd a bit, quipping that the lighting "looked like a big semi truck coming at them"; offering his ambiguous thoughts on fracking to introduce the new song "Arkansas"; instructing the crowd on how help out on the Rolling Thunder-sounding "Champion" and when to shout out "Oh Boy!" on the playful "So Everyone"; and explaining how on this tour he was attempting to be a non-showering gutter punk.
There might some quibbling about the set list. The two requests called out by fans -- "The Ohio River Boat Song" and "I See a Darkness" -- went unanswered. Strange that he wouldn't play the latter, a signature song good enough covered by Johnny Cash. There were one or two dead spots (like "Wai") where those songs would have subbed in nicely.
Nonetheless, he brought the Warhol Sound Series show to a strong finish with the set-closer "Easy Does It," the haunting "Someone Coming Through" and a final encore of the lonesome folk hymn "Hard Life."
1. Big Friday
2. At the Break of Day
3. Lesson from What's Poor
4. You Remind Me of Something (The Glory Goes)
6. The Palace Walls are Strewn with Tapestries
7. Grand Dark Feeling of Emptiness
8. Mother Nature Kneels
9. Careless love
10. Even if Love
11. Death Final
12. Lay and Love
14. So Everyone
15. Screaming Issue (Loudon Wainwright cover)
16. Easy Does It
17. Someone Coming Through
18. Without Work, You Have Nothing
19. Hard Life