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Review Tue May 07 2013

Report: Bill Callahan @ Garfield Park Conservatory

"I have to get up early tomorrow," Bill Callahan said before playing his last song of the evening. He paused, the crowd silent, and then continued: "Not quite as early as you, though."

Callahan seems to live by these kinds of quips. Standing on a modest stage surrounded by onlookers, various types of flora, and underneath a clear glass ceiling dotted with green lights, his set on Monday night was certainly a unique event, no doubt in part to the verdant confines of the Garfield Conservatory's Horticultural Hall. It was a sort of treat just to see live music there in the first place, let alone Callahan's, and you got the feeling that he felt treated to be there, too.

Callahan's blend of wry, subtle humor works wonders against the slow stoicism of his songs and commanding baritone, as if each movement or word exists as a singular gesture in itself. He seems to know he has this effect, and so he moves slowly, purposefully, with the occasional flash of a mischievous grin or joke acting as relief against his deeply evocative songwriting. Callahan has always been deliberate, to be sure, but his songs are relatively welcoming and simple, meandering at their own pace while painting rich portraits of a distinctly American landscape. Covers by late country legend George Jones ("Old Blue") and Percy Mayfield's well-worn standard "Please Send Me Someone To Love" fit snugly between Callahan's own slow, country-tinged ballads like "Drover" and "Too Many Birds," already invoking worlds of their own each time they're played..

"Sycamore," from 2007's Woke On A Whaleheart, opened the night in a fittingly pastoral tone, with the sunset still visible through the room's transparent walls. There's a distinct Western-ness to Callahan's sound, particularly in the open-ranged and dust-flecked material from Apocalypse, and it became clear as the night moved on that the intimate Hall lent even his older cuts a natural heaviness that only added to their romantic, reflective mood. Longer jogs like "Riding For the Feeling" and "One Fine Morning" seemed to breathe, each word (or the flare-gun "poof" in "Universal Applicant") punctuating a deep silence between chords or words, where even a dropped pin might've spoiled the suspense. The audience of several hundred stood transfixed, watching Callahan, guitarist Matt Kinsey and bassist Brian Beattie wind through each song's tumbleweed passages at seemingly undefined lengths, choosing to move to the next chord only once the tension had reached its height.

It would be hard to picture a more perfect venue to be immersed in Callahan's naturally pastoral songs. Monday night's set marked a relatively rare appearance for the enigmatic troubadour, and the Horticultural Hall offered a unique setting that gave his songs a kind of undiscovered depth. But just as quickly as Callahan appeared he was gone again, a mere hour and a half later, leaving the rest of us calmed by a new, country kind of silence.

 
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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.

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