Bonnie Prince Billy: June 12 at The Business

Tried to make it to Bonne Prince Billy at the in-store at Everyday Music here in Bellingham but could not get away from work. So I headed down to Anacortes to The Business to catch him down there. A small shop on the corner in the historic part of downtown, packed with real record albums, CDs, books. You can feel the Pulse of all things relevant to music and the arts everywhere you turn: posters of past and future shows, Vince Carmody, Scott Campbell, copies of Craphound. Vinyl records presented as rare and beautiful objects.

Bonne Prince Billy is set up in a corner of the shop in front of an old iron door to a vault. Above him is a convex mirror straight out of a Parmigianino painting. He is wearing a green trucker hat, fussing with cables, tuning up, ambient strums, washing over the capacity crowd. Strikes me as unassuming, like a farmer who just wandered in, Wendell Berry, tired from the day’s work, picking up a guitar.

Then the first words of the first song bring it all back to Will Oldham: “There is no God.” The voice seems weary and tired at its core, giving weight to the oblique lyricism in an almost prayer-like tone at times before rising into upper registers that quiver with a felt presence of pain. The authenticity there connects him to the crowd immediately. There is a sort of skillful unpracticed beauty that makes it seems as if he is singing the song for the first time. In the pauses and the shivers of the drawn out vowels. His playing is deceptively simple and plaintive., in the strings slow strum sounding from the interior of the song. In Willow Trees Bend, the voice breaks beautiful with quiet implorations honoring the simple presence of being: “when faced with your fire I will surrender to you.”

He invites the audience to ask him anything, request any song. Plays Madeleine Mary. Stops mid-song to tall a story about being on a boat the night before that was headed to the Arctic, that he wanted to stay on it and see narwhals and polar bears, but had fears of being trapped on the boat at sea. There is a subtle sense of humor in his delivery. Returns to the song now resonate with water.

Wolf Among Wolves is requested. The beauty of a simple song played slowly. The ghost of religion seems to haunt “Ease Down the Road.” He has the amazing ability to scatter the pieces of a song in the space between himself and the audience, like a shaman emptying a medicine bag of its bones, and then reassemble them mid-song into something more powerful and strange. In this manner, with “I See A Darkness” there is a sense that you are listening to a Holy Language.

He closed out with “I Am A Cinematographer” showing a mastery of the silent spaces inside of songs, leaving the audience breathless and still, each of us deeply satisfied to have experienced something rich and strange.