Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bill Callahan Quietly Rocks Brighton Music Hall

Bill Callahan has been one of my favorite singer/songwriters since his days performing as Smog. His material under his actual name has gotten better and better culminating in his 2011 album, Apocalypse. It stands as one of the most creative and moving releases this year. There was no way that I was going to miss his performance at Brighton Music Hall in Allston, MA on July 10, 2011. It would have been really depressing if I missed the show. Usually if I’m staying home, my go-to activity is listening to Bill Callahan and Smog records on vinyl. Thankfully, I got my ticket to the sold out show in advance and was able to catch the stirring performance.

Bill Callahan came out dressed in a suit and immediately began strumming the chords to “Riding for the Feeling”. The gentle yet intense song set the tone for the night. It was followed by “Baby’s Breath” and “Eid Ma Clack Shaw”, one of my favorites from his 2009 album, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. His band consisted of drummer Neal Morgan and electric guitarist Matt Kinsey. Morgan would provide soft percussion while Kinsey added atmospherics to Callahan’s gentle acoustic strumming and somber vocals. During the more raucous tunes like Apocalypse standout “America!”, Kinsey would be going off in all directions shredding guitar in the background. When Morgan started playing loud, it was staggering in contrast to the subtlety of the earlier songs. At those moments, Callahan would rock backwards strumming the guitar harder.

If you are a fan of Bill Callahan’s, the main question would be “Does his distinctive monotone voice sound as good live as it does on record?” The answer to that is a resounding “Yes”. During the set, Callahan complained to the soundman that his vocals sounded flat in his monitor. The audience kept yelling, “It sounds great Bill” to which he responded, “Not for me …but thanks.” I guess he didn’t know how to take the compliment.

At one point, he spoke to an audience member in a sarcastic tone saying, “I forgot about that one.” I could only imagine he was responding to the cries for “Cold Blooded Old Times”, his ‘hit’ if he ever had one. Some may have been disappointed with its absence but I didn’t mind one bit. It’s the kind of song that seems like pandering when it’s played and I wouldn’t want such a thing breaking up a sincere performance. He did play some Smog material mostly from A River Ain’t Too Much to Love including “Say Valley Maker”, “The Well”, “In the Pines”, and “Let Me See the Colts”. He also played “Our Anniversary” which is such a personal song that it almost seemed intrusive to watch him perform it. He closed things with “Too Many Birds” and “Blood Red Bird” in the encore.

One of the most amazing aspects of the show was the audience. It was one of the quietest and most respectful crowds I have been a part of. There was an intense silence while he was performing that was so quiet you could hear a pin drop; or more appropriately in this case, a beer open. Every time he finished a song, he was greeted with uproarious applause. It was very apparent that everyone in attendance was a big fan and appreciated every minute of the performance. He played for a little over an hour and a half, a very satisfying length. Most of my favorite songs were played in captivating fashion with all of the warmth that normally comes from my turntable. Below are some of his best songs alongside a decent video I found of “Drover” from the performance . The video for “America!” is a must-see and easily one of the year’s best.


  1. I saw him a month ago or so in Philly. It was a great show. I only have his last two albums, Knock Knock and A River Ain't too Much. What should I get next?

  2. As Smog, Red Apple Falls is fantastic and I've always liked Julius Caesar even though it is a really strange record. All of his albums under his actual name have been great but his new one, Apocalypse, is my favorite of the three.

  3. I'd highly recommend the Smog records Supper and Dongs of Sevotion. Of the early era stuff, The Doctor Came at Dawn has always been my favorite.