Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Rock City, Tuesday January 23
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, aka Will Oldham, is an infrequent visitor to these shores. Indeed, this is only his third UK tour in eleven years. Although some later dates will be performed solo, we were treated to a full backing band, who fleshed out Oldham’s sparse and mournful alt-country stylings with a surprisingly muscular, rock-based sound.
Oldham cut an arrestingly singular figure, with a demeanour that combined the whiskered wooliness of Bob Harris, the brooding solemnity of Clement Freud, and the gangling eccentricity of a Victorian gentleman explorer – all topped by an immense, protruding forehead that looked ready to explode from the rest of him.
Opening with a sprightly cover of Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again, Oldham turned in an epic two-hour set, peaking at around the 40 minute mark with a spellbinding rendition of John Martyn’s John The Baptist. At this point, it seemed he could do no wrong. Unfortunately, the momentum proved impossible to sustain – particularly when support singer Dawn McCarthy joined him to perform some awkward, ragged duets from his most recent album.
For the encore, the rapidly tiring audience were rewarded with a stunningly intense New Partner and a good-natured lurch though Gram Parsons’ Love Hurts.