Live Music + Gig Reviews

Bonnie Prince Billy @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

4 August 2010

When watching Scottish four-piece Trembling Bells, Bonnie Prince Billy’s support band tonight, it’s hard not to be reminded of some sort of the harmless fun of a village fayre. This might be largely down to the fact that, in the final song of their set, they bring out dancers that are very remenscient of those found at such peaceful events. As for the band themselves, their set is pleasant enough, if not spectacularly memorable, save for a gorgeous moment of acapella between Alex Neilson and Lavinia Blackwall.

After a half-an-hour break with no music blaring out of the PA – something of a rarity in the world of live concerts at Shepherd’s Bush Empire – the lights dim and Will Oldham trots onstage with The Cairo Gang. This is the first time that he and his backing band have come to the country under the billing of ‘Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang’, but this is still largely the same band that’s toured with Billy in recent years.

Perhaps something that the polite and hushed audience might not have expected was how few instruments Oldham played all evening and how much time he spent behind the microphone, almost acting out the songs with various body movements. It suits him, for he’s a marvellous frontman. And when he’s not throwing shapes or prowling around the stage, he is also a hugely talented singer. The clarity of his voice and the Kentucky drawl he sings in makes him highly captivating and engaging. Even though he only rarely talks in between songs, his is a natural, near-hypnotic stage prescence.

Their setlist is a delight and everything is performed beautifully. The Cairo Gang create an atmosphere that feels spacious and vast as the sky; impressive when playing a medium-sized theatre in west London. The powerfully moving I See A Darkness gets the evening’s most cheers, but there are plenty of other highlights. Go Folks, Go is rousing and spirited whilst Easy Does It jangles along amiably. The encore is raptorously demanded and appears as a generous four extra songs, the pick of the bunch being No Bad News with its harmonious vocal melodies.

It’s pleasing that the Cairo Gang have been given deserved recognition; they are just as vital to the evening’s success as its main man. An all-round successful evening concludes as the band are joined by Trembling Bells for the finale. As Billy dons his trucker cap and heads offstage, the audience leave happy after a set filled with what they hoped for and perhaps a bit more. Far from a razzle-dazzle of hype, the evening showcased the intensity and power of music. With a prolific back catalogue, Oldham and his gang will surely be welcomed back again soon.

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