Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy Blew Minds in Nelsonville
Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the always amazing, always weird Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (real name Will Oldham) play Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville, OH. The show was spectacular. But more on that later. For the uninitiated, Oldham has been a mainstay/legend in indie music for about the last 20 years ––dating back to when he took the cover photo for the Most Important Album Ever, Slint’s 1991 Spiderland. Since the early 90s, Oldham (from Kentucky) has released music variously under the names Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Bonny Billy, and even sometimes simply as Will Oldham. And it is all good. All of it. Oldham’s style changes, but in general he plays an intense and inviting sort of folk and country, with much emphasis on the lyrics.
The show last night was powerful. The crowd was a hip mix of bearded 30-somethings and interesting looking women. And the sound at Stuart’s could not have been better. The chords Oldham and his band played rang out richly and warm throughout the all-wood, old-feeling venue. The music sounded: salty, sweet, thick, creamy, etc., etc. And then of course there is Oldham’s voice. What a voice. Mature and slightly faltering, he belted and crooned song after song after song, each one building into a mind-blowing swell of half solid musicianship and half pure magic. He played for a good two hours, playing new songs I didn’t recognize but need, old stand-by’s and even closed his encore with a cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Let’s All Help the Cowboys (Sing the Blues)”. He also kept his stage banter on the laconic dickhead side, telling one woman who yelled out, “that’s the best song I’ve ever heard”, “I think you’re living in the moment” before making the universal smoking a joint hand motion. Oldham––bald, mustachioed and wearing faded jeans, work boots, and a green gingham shirt––seems to just ooze wisdom. He also moves in the strangest ways on stage. He gesticulates with his hands, stands on the sides of his feet, stands on one leg, hitches up his pants, tucks in and untucks in his shirt… You cannot not focus on him. He will blow your mind. Song after song.