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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Will Oldham makes for a memorable concert experience

The Knitting Factory, Hollywood, Cal., Nov. 12, 2000

By Dan MacIntosh

HOLLYWOOD, CA - Whether he's going by the group name Palace, Palace Music or Bonnie Prince Billie, Will Oldham always cuts a strikingly tragic Southern Gothic figure whenever on stage.

Tonight, he was joined by a five-piece band, which included two electric guitarists besides himself, a bass player, a drummer and a keyboardist. This low-fi outfit appeared to glory in its willfully amateur playing and off-key singing behind Oldham's Emo Phillips-like vocal delivery. As he warbled along, Oldham would many times gesture with his right hand, like a preacher laying down various fire and brimstone commandments.

Songs, like "Death to Everyone," summed up Oldham's favorite theme: the all-encompassing mortality of man. Simply put: We're all going to die, so let's try to make the best of any glimmers of light we find in this dark world.

The modestly dressed Oldham rocked back and forth on stage, nervously chewing gum and pecking at his guitar. With the addition of a band, his folk-ish songs sometimes take on a whole new sound, with '70's Stones, The Band and even Hendrix acting as handy musical reference points.

Some of his compositions even reach for literary aspirations, such as "Pushkin." But Oldham is more of a collector of thoughts and ideas, rather than any kind of an original thinker.

Although Oldham recently sang one his songs with Johnny Cash on The Man In Black's new CD, he's still nowhere close to his hero's artistic stature. Oldham - though distinct sounding - is by no means a great singer, and his songs are much closer to doodles, than they are to lasting art.

Nevertheless, he is a curiosity and an original, which always makes for a memorable concert experience.