Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer Music Marathon: Concert #3

3. The Civil Wars at The Earth House

Coming into this show I had pretty high expectations for a number of reasons. In listening to The Civil Wars' first live album Live at Eddie's Attic before they were really known and publicized in media, I had come to love their humor, their lyrical commentaries on relationship, and their vocal precision. I never fell completely in love with their sound as many have, but they captured my attention and have been garnering quite a bit of attention from some respected music forums and media such as iTunes, Paste Magazine, NPR, and even the Christian cultural commentator, Relevant Magazine. I watched The Civil Wars perform on NPR's YouTube channel a few days ago to prepare myself for their show, and was blown away by their dynamics and energy. As a friend and I discussed, it's hard to believe that their relationship is solely professional because they exhibit such a high amount of chemistry during their performances. Here's that video for your viewing pleasure:


Joy Williams is definitely the performer personality of the duo. I'm guessing this is largely due to her past career performing as a dynamic CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) musician. It felt to me like she was putting on an act that was a little hard to break through and relate to.

On the other hand, I gather that John Paul White is by nature a bit more laid-back and introverted, as is expected from most good song-writers--it seems as though a certain type of personality expresses him or herself better through a musical means than simple person-to-person interaction...maybe I am drawing false conclusions here, but that's my perception. I wish he would step out more and share the spotlight equally with Joy, but there's so much more about Joy on the surface that captures people's attention. John Paul deserves more credit! This is true also for the interviews with The Civil Wars that I have read as well. In the Christian media realm, people are often very interested in Joy's "switch" from CCM to "secular" music, while John Paul White just gets a few blurbs about his musical influences and such. I'm interested in getting to know his background more than media people are allowing me.

But I have digressed, as I often do. I'm off my soapbox.

Some observations from the concert:
A. Their dynamics (as seen in the NPR video) were lacking a bit during this show. It felt almost a bit awkward, like Joy was trying to interact with John Paul White, but he wasn't responding as much or interacting with the audience as much. Maybe he wasn't feeling well. One can only speculate.

B. Joy smiles so much. Like she knows something that you don't know. Like there's something that lies farther beneath the melancholy melodies, bringing everything to light. It made me feel weird. Like she almost was being untrue to the nature of the songs, but it was enchanting. Her ballerina-like hand gestures attract and allure along with her voice, sometimes serving as a distraction.

It was interesting to me that Joy's vocal expression still seems very much rooted in her experience singing pop music, even in the context of John Paul White's country guitar riffs. Don't get me wrong, her voice is her gift. She slides up and down her wide range with ease, has amazingly compelling tone-quality to her voice, and she can belt out very powerfully, but it's just something about the breathy whispers or the way her syllables are shaped/exaggerated that bothers me a little. That's me being really picky though. Vocals are often the main thing I listen to when I hear music, especially music like this where vocals are the main focus of their song-writing.

C. John Paul White's song-writing skills are very compelling, and his variety of guitars on stage made up for the variety of timbres that a band backing would offer them. He had a hollow-bodied electric, acoustic-electric, resonator, nylon-stringed acoustic, and one other. Joy also played a bit of piano and accordion, which was exciting for me. I like a bit of variety, especially when their two opening acts were also melancholic acoustic guitar sing-songwriter types.

D. My favorite songs of the night were both Michael Jackson covers-- I Want You Back and Billie Jean-- and Barton Hollow and Poison and Wine. The second opener, Ryland Baxter, also played some pretty poignant and witty songs that I enjoyed.

E. The Earth House is a cool smaller venue in Indianapolis housed in an old church building. They have a sizeable coffee shop (with a sizeable line of people in front of the counter) downstairs, and the old sanctuary (I'm guessing) has been completely cleared of pews and hymnals in order for people to stand and enjoy whatever musical act might grace the altar/stage. The pace of this show was definitely conducive to chairs, especially having two acoustic opener acts, but standing didn't kill us. I'll tell you what almost did kill us though-- the people who we squeezed around to get closer to the stage. They weren't very nice. The crowd was pretty different than I expected-- a lot of yuppies, college students, and a good amount of middle-agers.

Although I left with a back-ache, numb feet, and a sweat-soaked shirt, the concert was still really fun. Seeing quality music live is hardly ever a disappointment. Overall, I give this concert experience a 3.75 out of 5.

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