Will Oldham's beard was trimmer, more mustache-heavy last week than in year's past, but similarly obscuring. His mustache drooped over his lips in a way that made it hard to see his lips moving when he sang.
As devotees know, Oldham's lyrical concerns rarely extend beyond the elemental — love, hate, sky, dirt, water, mountains. His genius is in making simple language about those essential themes something close to poetic. But for all his lyrical skill and odd, almost eerie vocals on record, his shuffling songs can get tedious on repeat.
There was a shuffling, quiet section of last night's show, but mostly it was a surprising display of folk maximalism, driven by two drummers, lush, four-part harmonies and Oldham's voice, far stronger and more nimble than on record.
Cheyenne Mize, a fine fiddle player with a bright voice, stood in the middle of the stage and dueted with Oldham on just about every song. Often, she was joined by the guitarist and the bassist, whose fathoms-deep voice had an almost Tuvan throat-singer resonance to it.
We got a lot of what sounded like new songs (I only have pieces of the last several albums), but also BPB standards like “Just to See My Holly Home” and “Work Hard/Play Hard,” both with choruses done triumphantly. To close the set, Oldham set his guitar aside and offered a convincing cover of Tyrone Davis' “Turning Point” with all the arm gesturing and pleading you'd expect from a real soul singer.
In the opening slot, New Zealand's Bachelorette married Girl Group style with dissonance and electronic blips and beeps and loops. That's a combination that never gets old for me. Plus, one of the lead singers had a dress ornamented with little Lite Brite pegs. It was a prototype, she told me after the show. Next up: a sound-activated one.