BONNIE PRINCE BILLY @ THE APOLLO

by mike schoeck

With good reason, I showed up early to my second ever show at the Apollo Theater. One of the first steadily warm and balmy summer evenings of the season brought Bonnie “Prince” Billy by for his second of two New York gigs.

Artist: Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Song: I Am Goodbye


Vancouver chamber-folk trio Lightning Dust opened the show. Sounding like a dead-ringer for, or perhaps lovechild of Bjork meets Feist, singer Amber Webber’s somber rasp was nothing short of evocative and a good sign of what was to come.

In Grand Ole’ Oprey, Appalachia-meets-Harlem and 15-some years of DIY fashion, the Bonnie “Prince” Billy group showed up shortly after 9 p.m. behind the Apollo’s bright red curtain.

As the curtain revealed the denim-clad Louisville troubador at stage front and right, Will Oldham nearly launched into the band’s two-plus hour set of heartfelt country and backwoods folk tunes but spent about a minute and a half fidgeting and unplugging a pedalboard of guitar effects on the floor. The remainder of the group stood in near darkness, almost in limbo.

What ensued was a masterful set by one of alt-country and indie rock’s most unsung and seasoned veterans.  Not only is he one of the most cult figures of the niche with albums released like clockwork, but Oldham also brings with him the most sought-after studio musicians on tour as a backing band.
The show featured a who’s who of the folk studio variety: Dirty Three drummer Jim White, guitarist Emmett Kelly, bassist Josh Abrams, co-vocalist and violinist Cheyenne Mize and guest singer Matt Sweeney, who joined Oldham on “Blood Embrace.”

The Bonnie the Prince Billy show is exemplified from the backwoods and dead-on heartfelt country and folk element, but the man himself retains such a captivating persona onstage that at moments it felt like you were watching something of the Devil went Down to Georgia, but wound up on 125th Street.  Oldham’s presence is so serious, balancing on one leg, crouched to the mic and throwing out banter and prose, the predominantly hipster crowd was transported somevplace a thousand miles away to a timeless variety of near-glitz country and glamor.  The Billy show was rounded out not only by the DIY element, but also an encore capped with an a cappella session in which Oldham stood behind or pointed to one of the band and Lightning Dust members to chime in with an improvised verse to a traditional down-home folk song.

One Comment

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