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Bonnie "Prince" Billy

with The Windy Hills


It was a perfect Thursday night—summer had just left, and jeans were not out of the question. An hour-and-a-half drive to Eumundi later, only walking into the wrong pub once, I arrived. A historic hotel, Joe's gig room was comfortably filled with a local, plaid-shirted crowd, some seated and some standing in the reasonably low-ceilinged room. With eyes closed and great trepidation, the first two members of The Windy Hills opened the night, with the other members gradually shuffling on after the first few nervous songs. Perhaps things would have seemed more comfortable if it didn't feel like the guitarist should have been selling lawnmowers in his denim cut-offs, cream work-shirt, and very-nearly-John-Deer hat, instead of singing harmonies and plucking at a Jagmaster. Nonetheless, as the audience grew used to his thighs, and the other members started playing, the stage lights came on and the jams began to roll out like thunderstorms. What followed was a sweeping, crashing selection of songs about guns in the snow, hawks in the water, the sun, and the outside world in general (although the meaning of "she was a girl and now she's a boy" escaped me). All members contributed to vocal harmonies that increased with quality with every song. Although obviously taking large cues from Americana music, and despite singing "girl from Kentucky be my valentine," the group came across as presenting an authentic, laid-back, often crushing, Australian set of songs. The set finished on an electronic touch, with a thinly-woven bass-line and lyrics about cigarettes and cars and mobile phones, as the band seemed to suddenly acknowledge the existence of urban civilization. A vocoder was involved. Bonnie "Prince" Billy (William Oldham) walked on stage next, accompanied by his drummer, Van Campbell, guitarist Emmett Kelly, and vocalist Angel Olsen. Unlike The Windy Hills, Oldham did not attempt to fill the silence with small assurances ("we're with you, don't worry," front man Andrew Kidman assured the audience at one point). His first words, the opening lyrics to "New Tibet", immediately captured every person in the room's attention—with misunderstanding laugher from many. Five songs later he finally graced the audience with a quick joke. Then back to the music. The audience was addressed completely through his songs, as he communicated through powerful harmonies or with his lone, warbling voice. Piercing eye contact from his blue eyes froze the audience from behind his thick, red eyelashes, and a true performer, his theatrical, over-the-top hand actions summoned everyone's attention through the lesser-known hits. In the meanwhile, "Nobody Answers", "I Don't Belong To Anyone", and "Ohio River Boat Song" were greeted with absolute cheers, while "After I Made Love To You" and a sped-up, belting rendition of "I See a Darkness" were highlights of the night, with "Quail Dumplings" finishing the pre-encore set on a sombre note without the studio-version's light-hearted keys. Olsen paced and swayed like a poised farmyard dancer, while Kelly switched guitars and crooned into the mic. Oldham sported open cuff links a medium-length beard. It was a majestic gig, one of the best I've been to.

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