In support of last year's wonderful YTI⅃AƎЯ, Bill Callahan played The Opera House in Williamsburg Brooklyn.
There's a fine line an artist can cross when playing new renditions of their songs live. In a lot of cases, many fans have the expectation of hearing the version exactly as it is on the record when they see an artist live, but sometimes an artist can change up their songs to a point beyond recognition and leave fans feeling slighted and disappointed. Luckily, Bill Callahan knows how to bring his songs to life in a way that stays true to the originals, but also makes for exciting performances as songs take on new shapes and arrangements. This felt especially true on Friday evening as he brought his band to Brooklyn for incredible takes on a lot of his latest material with some classics thrown in for good measure. Accompanied by a phenomenal drummer, a mighty saxophonist, and an incendiary slide guitarist, Callahan was able to transform his songs for an exciting night of stunning storytelling. At the heart of his songs are his lyrics and in many ways, the music around them is just an added bonus. Hearing these new forms made the lyrics standout even more as they anchored each song along with some familiar melodies even as the rhythms and textures were totally new, yet still inspiring. "Bowevil" came alive with a rumbling beat, taking a bit of a charge as the track galloped along, the saxophone and slide guitar revving it up as it progressed, giving it a bit more bite than what comes across on the recording. "Coyotes" was absolutely heavenly, a triumphant moment that kicked off with a wild saxophone solo that was rich and full of power before the rest of the band came together to elevate the track and bring it to blissful new heights. A truly pleasing number, it felt even more affirming as the band flexed the creative muscle and allowed it to really flourish, their skills coming together for an epic outburst of elegant beauty. Keeping his talking to a minimum, there wasn't much between songs and Bill really let the music speak for itself, but when he did chime in, he did so with his usual dead-pan style that revealed his true humor, something that is lost on his songs at times, but lightened the mood between rather intense and striking songs. "You can see I've been doing a dance," he acknowledged late into the set (he'd been shuffling across the stage all night, bopping and bobbing to his tunes with a wit that made the crowd erupt with laughter). "It's called 'the gator.' You can buy instructional videos on how to do it at the merch table" he added, once again resulting in hysterical outbursts from the crowd. Perhaps the biggest reaction of the night came during the transcendent "Drover," which was broken into a multi-part epic that saw everyone on stage giving it their all as cascading drum fills rippled throughout while the guitars blasted away with metallic vigor and impressive feats of strength. It was an awe-inspiring version of an already great song and it's stronghold over the audience felt as comforting as it did transfixing. Everyone was fully locked-in and engaged firmly in the moment. He ended the main set with the traditional song "In the Pines," giving it his own spin with a dry delivery over rustic chords and guitar embellishments so stirring that one member of the crowd rose from his seat and shot his hands in the air as if he'd just been crowned the victor of some competition. It was a resounding moment that was only topped by the encore and the nostalgic driven "Teenage Spaceship" which brought the night to a close in epic fashion. For over thirty years, Bill Callahan has established himself as a leading songwriter of his generation, one who has turned out flawless records for decades and shows no signs of letting up or losing his talent. To see him bring about these new versions live only further proves his genius ability to write instantly classic songs and makes every performance of his a true gift and not one to ever miss.
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