There is absolutely nothing flash about Bill Callahan – not that he’s dull. No, but he needed no bells or whistles to perform what was an intense and intriguing set at this sold-out show.
His fans don’t need histrionics, either, just the determined approach to live performance he favours. He was in a brooding mood with all his songs delivered in a mellifluous baritone voice, which conjured up images (unkindly) of Lee Marvin, minus the chewing broken ashtray tones.
A man of mystery is how Callahan likes to be. He said little or nothing between songs, preferring his lyrics to do the talking. With 15 albums in his fine catalogue – eleven under his Smog moniker – there’s no shortage of songs but the “new” Leonard Cohen, as he’s been called, stuck in the main to album outings of the past four years.
The dreamy wild out west, “Drover” from 2001’s release Apocalypse, was forceful yet hushed while “America” from the same album mentions his country’s famous singer/songwriters with Callahan smiling at thoughts of flying back there pronto.
The “Dress Sexy At My Funeral” from the Smog release of 2000, Dongs of Sevotion, showed that Callahan maybe doesn’t take himself too seriously sometimes, or not as seriously as his record-buying public.
From latest release, the excellent Dream River, he offered “Javelin Unlanding” and “Small Plane.” The latter, in particular, is a gorgeous song that suits his dark brown baritone vocals as beautifully as anything he’s recorded: they sparkled and hopped gently over Callahan’s delicate rhythm guitar and the gentle, airy attention of his band. Throughout the evening, lead guitarist, Matt Kinsey, fired off sound barbs that added a spooky feel to songs like Small Plane.
There was no chance that Callahan would remain other than elusive in a live setting, a shadowy figure in a business where big noise and self-promotion are part of the deal.
This is an artiste who is happy to offer up thoughtful and heartfelt songs on all sorts of personal issues and general ones as well. This gig would have pleased the die-hards and, maybe, tempted others to find out more about his music.