In the interest of full disclosure, I hold Malcolm Holcombe and his music in the highest of regard so reviewing this show with any objectivity will be difficult at best and most likely completely out of my reach. I had been looking forward to Holcombe’s return ever since the powers that be down at the White Water Tavern announced the date of the show. Over the past week I have been preaching the Gospel of Malcolm with great fervor like some idealistic missionary to anyone that seemed to have the slightest interest in music and would give me two minutes of their time.
I first saw Holcombe at his first appearance at The White Water Tavern in November of 2009. It was truly a Road to Damascus conversion for me. I have made it the highest of priorities to get in front of that stage every time Holcombe has graced it since. I arrived to last night’s show early. Holcombe was finishing up his sound check. Most there early were devotees that had seen him prior. Those of us waiting around ended up telling stories of when each of us had first seen him play as if we were at some tent revival telling the stories of how and when each of us had been saved.
Matt White reintroduced me to Holcombe before the first set. When you speak to Holcombe, he seems meek and humble. He speaks softly, asks your name and leans in close as to be sure to hear it. He seems genuinely grateful that you have made the effort to come see him. He started his fist set humbly and graciously, thanking, by name, all the folks at the White Water who had been taking care of him. He opened with “Mountains of Home,” which seems to be a sentimental 3/4-time reflection on lifelong memories of family and where those memories were made. The transformation had happened by the time he finished that first song. When he launched into “Where I Don’t Belong,” as if moved by some supernatural force, the meek and gentle man had been replaced by a drooling, shouting, screaming, and at times barking, fire-and-brimstone backwoods preacher who beat and tugged at his guitar as if he was trying to flush Old Scratch himself from within its hollow wooden cavity.
About a half-dozen songs into the set, Holcombe was starting one of his deceptively meandering stories that lead the crowd headlong into the next song without them even knowing, when one of the patrons produced a beer pitcher containing a small amount of paper money and placed it at the front of the stage for folks to provide additional gratuity if so moved. Holcombe stopped in mid-sentence and very brusquely refused the gesture, saying: “Get that bucket out from under me.” He then stood up, grabbed the pitcher and stuck it far out of reach of the crowd, saying: “I’ll move it my damn self. Y’all paid to get in here, didn’t you?”
So this is where I have to end my feeble attempt at a church metaphor. You see, I can draw many parallels with Malcolm and the Bible-Belt Christian experience. But I am not aware of a preacher ever turning down a collection plate. He finished the first set with “Who Carried You?” This song seems to have the right proportions of all the right ingredients. It is just dark enough to not be too sentimental, just enough of a play on words as to not be too dark.
After a well-deserved smoke break, Holcombe returned to the stage for another set of 10 or so songs including “Love Me Like a Fool,” the haunting “Dressed in White,” ”Drink the Rain,” “To the Homeland” and “A Far Cry from Here.” After a brief amount of urging, he provided a three-song encore. This included granting a request for the song “Room Eleven.” The closest thing to a disappointment I can even mention is that there were not more people there. Given that it was a Sunday night and an early show, the 30 or so people that were there was probably a pretty fine showing. Most of the folks there were clearly devotees. If you will indulge me in one last church comparison, you should know that if you talk too much, be prepared to get the evil eye from one of the church ladies.
Sadly I have not allowed myself enough space to adequately describe Adam Faucett’s opening set. I would be remiss to not at least acknowledge his efforts. His music is well written and well performed and is haunting to be sure. When he finished playing his song “I Don't Need You to Love Me Anymore,” I heard someone in the audience say, “Wow! I almost started crying.” His use of alternate tunings, slipping into falsettos and overall eeriness and sadness conjures up thoughts of Skip James. I consider that to be among the highest of compliments.