"The cleverly quiet performance meant the crowd’s lengthy and appreciative applause was artificially heightened, an effect well deserved."
It felt strange to attend prolific songwriter Bill Callahan’s show with little idea as to how it would unfold. What could be assured was that there’d be many long, slow songs spearheaded by a distinctly American baritone. What was unexpected, however, was the level of concentration and focus required to get the most out of the two-and-a-half hour marathon.
After watching Callahan deliver 17 songs, mostly from his Dream River, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle and Apocalypse records, his fans became aware why this brooding yet affable storyteller stands above of most of his contemporaries. It’s his ability to command attention and respect from the audience with muted authority.
This had to be the quietest gig at Vivid in 2015. Drummer Adam Jones played his bare-essentials kit (snare, hi-hat, hand drums) with his bare hands or brushes. At one point he was tapping the beat on his knee which was audible to those in the first ten rows of the Joan Sutherland Theatre. It was too quiet to be immersive, too distant to be intimate but it forced the crowd to listen for the subtleties. This worked in Callahan’s favour, highlighting his transportive lyrics and having fans on the edge of their seats, trying to inch their ears closer to the troubadour.
The enchanting live arrangements for tracks like Riding For The Feeling and Ride My Arrow cleverly replaced studio recorded piano and flute with a Gibson SG heavy on the reverb and delay, but with the volume turned below Callahan’s own acoustic strumming. Matt Kinsey’s electric guitar left one forgetting about the fun flute in Javelin Unlanding and let Callahan’s unwavering, laconic intensity come to the fore.
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The night’s highlight was ten-minute closer (and third encore) Winter Road, where Callahan ad-libbed under the band’s laid-back jam. He playfully included lines relating to the local sights, like “When there’s nothing going on go where the fruit bats go,” before finishing with, “The road has got to end and then pick up again,” conducting his band’s crescendo with this coda.
Callahan’s set could have been a dull and lifeless if it weren’t for his ability to draw the entire audience in. The cleverly quiet performance meant the crowd’s lengthy and appreciative applause was artificially heightened, an effect well deserved.