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Concert Tue May 24 2011

Bonnie Prince Billy@Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park 5/23/11

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It was an interesting choice for Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays to open up the summer series with Bonnie Prince Billy, otherwise known as Will Oldam and various Palace incarnations. He easily sold out two weeknight shows at Lincoln Hall less than a year ago and also did well at The Vic Theater a couple of years back. Yet, some may still say Bonnie Prince Billy is still much less known than he should be for a man of his talents and breadth of his career. He has been creating and releasing music under various names since 1993 afterall and has so many studio albums that it is somewhat challenging for the casual fan to keep up. One can't help but wonder what some of those in attendance (who were checking out a free show but had never heard the man's music) thought last night.

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At the same time, the oddity of it was that Bonnie Prince Billy chose the largest Chicago venue he's played thus far to play mainly new songs. As usual, these were filled with the gritty insights into intimacy and religion, with Oldham warning parents before a swear word involving physical relations was dropped early on in a song that they could cover their children's ears if they'd prefer. With his voice in its usual state of barely controlled anguish, Oldham's lyrics were sometimes incisive and at other times rather solemn but always making one feel like they are hearing the voice of a deep feeling soul.

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The great thing about seeing Bonnie Prince Billy live is that he has a sense of balance and refined order to his playing. His songs are as subtle as his interpretive dance and yoga moves (his balance whilst singing and playing his guitar is astounding!) However, he always seems to let the music build around his audience like a slow moving cinema that has all the most unforgettable scenes. Though he was singing as if he was in the midst of a turbulent religious conflict lyrically, much of the 90 minute long set was deceptively languid for those who weren't listening close enough, the music a sort of drawl to ease into the summer then a big push into the heat when Oldham turned up the intensity of his playing. In some ways, his appearance also perfectly matched the nuances of his music to someone who might not be paying careful attention. He looked a great deal like an all American man with his white musical note hat, plain blue jeans and matching shirt but one shouldn't overlook the expressive bare feet or the traces of black eyeliner that could be seen only for those sitting close.

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In addition to his insightful lyrics, Bonnie Prince Billy pulled out all the stops musically as well. He again played with The Cairo Gang and Angel Olsen who Chicago is lucky to call our own. Yet, there were also several instruments played that might be impractical in a typical indoor venue with a total of 6 backing members. The piano, melodica, and upright bass could have been louder but overall seemed well mixed with Oldham's vocals and guitar playing. For the long time devotee, it was also great to get a preview of his next album's songs as they will undoubtedly grow on us in the future months. If the standing ovation he received from fans in the seats is any indication, his next album will go over quite well.

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Will / May 24, 2011 10:53 PM

Thanks for the photos! What a great show.

So most of what Will and the Gang played last night were new unreleased songs?

Kirstie / May 25, 2011 4:22 PM

Yes definitely! Though it's difficult to keep up with all of the releases, I have most of them and didn't recognize the vast majority of what he played. Also, he did announce at the end that we were just hearing new songs for an upcoming album release.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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