Posted in music on December 12, 2010

by Rachel Kowal

BPB & the Cairo Gang @ Town Hall - 12/8/10 (photo by Reuben Strayer)
Bonnie Prince Billy

By this point, it's no secret that Oldham likes to keep things interesting. The prolific singer/songwriter has collaborated with a myriad of talented musicians (Tortoise, Scout Niblett, Matt Sweeney), performed/recorded under a range of monikers, and has even tried his hand at acting (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy).

His musical act evolves so rapidly that the surprise of the evening at Town Hall came not during the main act when he played with the talented backing band The Cairo Gang, but during the mysterious opener's set. Earlier in an interview when asked about the band he shared a bill with, Oldham responded nonchalantly that The Babblers were simply an "obscure" band from Shreveport. But within seconds of seeing the group (and hearing the two vocalists), it became apparent that they were actually just a wild permutation of the main act, led by Oldham himself.

With his arm outstretched above his head and his eyes cast heavenward, Oldham's alias had more than a passing resemblance to a cult leader. But instead of matching Reeboks, he and his backing band wore sunglasses and one-piece pajama suits (complete with a zipper, hood, and footsies). The stage itself was decorated accordingly with a mismatched collection of bedroom lamps.

Given Oldham's involvement, The Babblers of course had that characteristic love it or hate it Bonnie 'Prince' Billy twang, but the songs were also quite distinct from Oldham's lengthy discography. Female vocalist Angel Olsen sang songs with a thrilling intensity as if her adopted persona gave her more confidence, freedom, and creative power. Olsen was a joy throughout the evening, but her role in The Babblers really let her shine since it occasionally gave her reason to exchange her smooth, rich vocals for a no-nonsense battle cry. "Sweetheart, Sweetheart, let's get it together!" she shrieked in desperation during one song. Upon witnessing Olsen's sudden transformation, the crowd broke the polite silence perpetuated by the fancy theatre with enthusiastic cheers. Together on stage, Oldham and Olsen were like cool criminals. There was a perverse quality to their back country gospel rock that made it mesmerizing to witness.

In recent weeks, the baffling story of The Babblers has been slowly unfurling. One theory holds that The Babblers project was modeled after the pre-existing work of Kevin Coyne and Dagmar Krause, and after comparing Wednesday night's notes to the track listing for the British duo's album (conveniently titled 'Babble'), this definitely seems to be the case. The Babblers played the entirety of 'Babble' in sequence.

Following the rousing set by The Babblers, there was a quick costume change and Oldham and his band emerged once more - this time under the guise of a different name. Everything was back to normal. (If your definition of normal allows for Oldham's eyeliner, fancy suit/do-rag combo, awkward dancing, and weird tics - that is.)

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and The Cairo Gang were definitely not as volatile as The Babblers (had Oldham one-upped himself?), but they were still compelling to watch. In her becoming black dress, Olsen charmed the crowd once again, even if her vocals were more subdued for the second half of the evening. After such an intense display earlier, I'm impressed she could continue to sing so beautifully.

Though the majority of the set was lifted from the group's recent collaborative album, 'Wonder Show of the World,' Oldham also included a handful of older tunes, including "Only Someone Running" (which featured Matt Sweeney on guitar) and the breathtaking "Cursed Sleep." They concluded their encore with "Go Folks, Go," which allowed Oldham to retain the position of charismatic religious fanatic once more as he echoed the song's title repeatedly, as if delivering a benediction to his receptive crowd of followers.

I don't think the Town Hall staff and promoters knew what they were getting into when they booked Will Oldham, but I'm certainly glad they took a chance and surrendered to the crazy pajama'ed gang and its fearless leader.

Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang opened for Yo La Tengo at Maxwell's one night earlier. Their Town Hall setlist is below...

--
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and the Cairo Gang Setlist
December Day (Willie Nelson cover)
Troublesome Houses
?
So Everyone
That's What Our Love Is
Heart's Arms
You Are Lost
The Sounds Are Always Begging
This Strange Form of Life
Only Someone Running
With Cornstalks or Among Them
Cursed Sleep
Teach Me to Bear You

Encore
?
Ohio River Boat Song (Greatest Palace Music - 2004)
Go Folks, Go

---

      

Comments (76)

babblers > cairo gang.

setlist for cairo gang stunk. with the exception of babblers set, this was the least compelling of all the BPB show's i've seen.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 1:23 PM

I'm sorry but this guy is hugely overrated.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 1:52 PM

Over rated? The guy sold out town hall in about 3 seconds. Who is over rating him? His legions of fans?

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 2:00 PM

Uh, tickets were still available the day of the show.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 2:01 PM

Who?

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 2:48 PM

>and has even tried his hand at acting (Old >Joy, Wendy and Lucy).

um, he tried his hand at acting before music. He was a child actor.... see Matewan (1987).

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 2:56 PM

This guy has the worst voice. Seriously, his fans would agree. The worst.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 3:02 PM

Crappy review -- find a real writer.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 3:03 PM

Actually BPB's voice has really improved - he can sing now. Like Nick Cave, whou couldn't sing either when he started, he has made himself into a singer.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 3:19 PM

"Together on stage, Oldham and Olsen were like cool criminals."

??? Are you referring to the fact that Babble was loosely based on Ian Brady and Myra Hindley?

Bad writing.

And there's no competing "theories" about the Babblers: Oldham has written in Mojo about his love for the Coyne/Krause album.

http://kevincoynepage.free.fr/IMAGES/Oldham_Babble.jpg

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 3:24 PM

Babblers were worth the price of admission. Olsen was under-utilized in the main set. Sweeney was a huge highlight though and I like the sped-up "Ohio River Boat Song." A mellow, but very compelling Oldham show.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 3:30 PM

This writer needs to do some homework before publishing.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 3:32 PM

who cares guys. i couldn't make it to the show and this let me know what i missed.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 3:39 PM

that picture is grainy as hell

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 3:53 PM

The Town Hall nazis were ready to toss anybody with a camera out of the place -- most reviews of the show didn't have any pix at all.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 3:55 PM

Actually. BPB's voice is exactly the same as its always been. Lousy and annoying.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:05 PM

everybody, shut the fuck up

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:11 PM

BPB makes music for white people with no soul. I'm not h8ting on him. It's just a fact.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:14 PM

The Babblers set was fantastic. Angel Olsen is a great singer and real beauty.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:15 PM

"BPB makes music for white people with no soul."

Really? Who is his black equivalent?

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:18 PM

BPB is schtupping Olsen -- she was giving him the lovey-dovey eyes all night.

She is a gorgeous gal.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:19 PM

"Actually. BPB's voice is exactly the same as its always been."

Right. Demonstrably not true if you listen to his early stuff compared to the last couple. He has been taking singing lessons, obviously.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:22 PM

Every BPB show I go to, reaks of diaretic farts. I don't get it. I've seen BPB at various venues since 1994, and that smell always attends. Is it the band or the fans? I would love to see BPB once, without fear of that smell... oooh, that smell!

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:25 PM

The early stuff is when he sang much better! The Palace Brothers records are the best. Since then, he's only gotten worse and smelly.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:31 PM

His best music was in the 90s. The new stuff is all shite. And I agree, his voice has gotten more nasaly and annoying on the more recent material.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:35 PM

Kanye West is music for black people who have no soul.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 4:44 PM

i love bpb and was blown away by the babblers set, but this show did not sell out in minutes. I bought mine about a week before and there were a lot of empty seats upstairs.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 5:27 PM

totally. I bought my tickets the day of the show. I agree iwth 4:35. His best is behind him. I just go for the smell.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 5:37 PM

The Who guy is more annoying than the fart guy. At least there is some truth to the farting aroma at these shows.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 5:38 PM

modern folk music is so played out. it's always incompetent musicians who can't make good music, so they hide behind the "new" folk mask. what bullcrap!

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 5:44 PM

Horrible show, and props to the tedious sycophant on this blog who tries to point out why we do not understand why this guy is "amazing."

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 6:07 PM

FART HARD!

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 6:09 PM

Hummus Man lives!!!!!!! Hummus for all!!!!!!

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 7:10 PM

no fart will top the great arcade fire fart of 2010

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 7:26 PM

What is strange is the person or people here who say they were at the show and it was horrible and that BPB is shite and has been so for years ... why the fuck did you go to the show, then?

You're either totally stupid or lying through your teeth.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 7:40 PM

i like will oldham but i think i would enjoy him more if he wasn't such a pretentious clown.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 7:56 PM

BPB doesn't care what some Williamsburg trust fund hipster twats think of him, that's for sure.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 8:00 PM

Set list:

December Day (Willie Nelson)
Troublesome Houses
You Win
So Everyone
That's What Our Love Is
Heart's Arms
You Are Lost
The Sounds Are Always Begging
Strange Form of Life
Only Someone Running
With Cornstalks or Among Them
Cursed Sleep
Teach Me To Bear You

It’s Not For Me To Understand (Willie Nelson)
Ohio River Boat Song
Go, Folks, Go

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 8:24 PM

i heard will oldham has a trust fund. how's that for irony!

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 8:27 PM

But he's not from Williamsburg or Ohio!

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 8:33 PM

39 comments on a Sunday. Guarantee 80% of these posts are from one lonely person.

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 8:44 PM

Everyone shut the fuck up. It was a great show - if you are so miserable, you should have stayed home

Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2010 9:16 PM

Anybody who enjoys these artists gets a rent check from their parents every month.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 9:00 AM

These comments are silly. The show was great if you like Oldham. If you're not a fan of him or his music- that's fine. But leaving bogus comments is just making you sound dumb and ignorant. To each his own. All I can say is, is that as an Oldham fan to other fans, the evening was very enjoyable. For those of you not into Oldham's work, there's plenty of other shows out there, and blogs for you to comment on too.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 9:03 AM

True about the camera policy. I write my own music blog, and contribute to a high profile national music blog too- and the venue's policy is a strict no-camera one (which is rare in NYC- esp for press). You have to be NYTimes to get one in- which explains why the Times has published the only decent pic from the show.

This review was surprisingly lame for BV. We all know that Wil Oldham is eccentric. What else do you got to say? The review reads like a wikipedia page instead of an insightful review of the show. And why post a set list if you do not know the names of the tunes? Silly.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 9:09 AM

Agree 9:09 -- I tried to post the full set list but it got zapped for some reason.

The one she posted is from setlist.fm

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 9:29 AM

@9:09, kinda funny that you write your own music blog - you're quick to bash the review on this one yet you post anonymously so that no one can see how much better your review is. you are a first class douche and i bet your blog sucks.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 9:37 AM

9:37: writer of the BV review

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 9:40 AM

ha! nope, and 9:09, I found your blog. this community is smaller than you may think, talk enough shit and it will bite you in the ass. thanks for all the clues.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 9:44 AM

The people who keep bashing BPB and saying how bad he sucks and how he's been shit since the 90s ended and how bad this show was ... who keeps paying good money to see someone they think is absolutely useless?

The people writing this shite obviously didn't even attend the show and are probably jealous at all the tail a bald guy with a beard in his late 30s like BPB is getting -- he is obviously banging Olsen and she is hot as hell.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 9:45 AM

The comments section of this blog is pretty lame -- just a bunch of envious and resentful fucks bashing anyone who is the least bit successful. BV should consider shutting down the comments altogeher, they add little or nothing to the site.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 9:48 AM

what's even lamer is 9:09's blog which has zero readership. i'll save him the embarrassment of posting it here, but anyone with a brain can find it in 30 seconds like I did.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 9:52 AM

9:09 -- what is the url for your blog? I'd like to read your review. What is the high profile national blog you contribute to?

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 10:07 AM

all the clues are there... just google bonnie prince billy at town hall, you'll eventually find a "high profile national blog", a review of this show written by a contributor who has his own blog... really was not that hard to find.

and pretty stupid to talk shit about another blogger...

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 10:11 AM

10:11 -- why don't you just post the url?

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 10:24 AM

if you really want me to, I will. just waiting for he himself to admit to it

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 10:26 AM

nah, i'm not gonna out him. not my style. he knows what a douche he is, and there's enough info here to find it yourself. i actually thought like most blogger-upstarts he probably contributed to BV once too, but luckily he's not that silly.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 10:32 AM

I just found this blog with a Bonnie Prince Billy review: http://www.uprootedmusicrevue.com. Looks like he writes for No Depression- which is good. Is this it? Not a bad review (seems like he knows Bonnie Prince Billy's stuff). If it is 9:09, I wouldn't say he's a douche, the reviews are actually pretty compariable if you ask me.

I'm not sure what his readership is, but there was decent stuff on there I thought was good.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 10:32 AM

what's douchey is having a blog yourself and anonymously, and cowardly calling out another blogger for their review

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 10:33 AM

and of course, no response from him.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 10:50 AM

Just wanted to drop by and say this show was GREAT. BPB and the Cairo Gang were highly enjoyable (although I have to say I preferred their flawless performance at the Yo La Tengo hanukkah show the night before, but who wouldn't). The Babblers were the highlight of the show and the reason I am glad I bought a ticket for this.

I really hope they plan to record. And even if they don't play the same songs again, it would be great to see the Babblers continue making music in that style, I loved it.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 10:58 AM

Dear Readers,

A friend of mine just forwarded me this thread of comments (that mentions my blog and that also suggests that I am insulting other writers here). I am posting to tell everyone that I have had nothing to do with any of these comments. Since the person who insulted thsi blog and the people who have accused me here all posted as "anonymous", I am writing to set the record straight.

Just to clarify: I am a frequent reader who respects the work of Brooklyn Vegan. I have even posted Brooklyn Vegan as a link on my blog. I have been a follower of this blog since 2004 and enjoy reading it very much.

I am not in the business of slamming other blogs. My blog is one that I do for fun and for people who dig the music I enjoy, with the intention of promoting artists to a wider audience. I am a community-oriented writer, who has begun blogging just to join the conversation.

I did write two reviews on this show, one for The Babblers and one for Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang. I did feature these on No Depression and for my own blog. These are facts. Accusations of me posting insulting comments here on Brooklyn Vegan are false.

I took the suggestion from one of the comments above and performed a google search of reviews of this show. I can understand why someone would or could connect the dots to me and my work, but I assure the community on Brooklyn Vegan that I did not, and would not, post insulting blows to a fellow writer's work.

I apologize for this long comment here, but I am very upset and hurt by these comments labeling me as a "douche" and as a person who would post anonymous comments insulting other writers here. I consider the Brooklyn Vegan writers peers, and in some cases, role models for my own work.


Posted by Chris Mateer | December 13, 2010 11:33 AM

amazing show. but jesus that is one god awful review.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 11:55 AM

man... too serious. i miss the fart guy.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 12:10 PM

Right on, Chris - you have alot of integrity, something most of the BV comment trollers know nothing about

Posted by Mike H | December 13, 2010 12:13 PM

is bpb definitely banging angel olsen? prove it.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 12:22 PM

fart

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 1:34 PM

The Who.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 1:34 PM

"is bpb definitely banging angel olsen?"

yes

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 2:42 PM

to the guy that said will oldham has a trust fund: he has never made his wealth a secret, nor has he ever tried to put on like he was slumming it. i don't see where the irony lies. are you just one of those people that believes every one that has accomplished more than you have did so because their wealth bought them that accomplishment?

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 3:20 PM

the third song in the set was "You Win," a recent single.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 3:21 PM

Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSdZ_yZP8bk

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 6:50 PM

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 6:58 PM

BPB hates the Internet and the tea-sipping blogsters who pick over the indie scene: FACT.

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 7:59 PM

BPB told me he hates BrooklynVeganites: FACT!

Posted by Anonymous | December 13, 2010 8:03 PM

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