Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Vic Theatre; Sat 14
Former Palace Brother and existential joker Will Oldham long ago developed a cult following more than willing to oblige him as he shifted from one moniker to another, releasing dozens of records with as many different supporting players. The man’s a tireless storyteller whose unusual folk spirituals have always given the impression that the sometime actor is pulling an epic gag on us, just waiting till that next release to lift the veil and holler, “Gotcha!”
But ever since settling on the handle Bonnie “Prince” Billy in the late ’90s, Oldham’s gradually refined his strengths as a singer-guitarist to reveal a competent, if modest, musicality that’s complemented by his choice of sidemen. On the heels of last year’s lovely, quietly released LP, Lie Down in the Light, the pride of Louisville follows up with another full-length for longtime label Drag City.
On the fantastic new Beware, recorded here at Engine Studios, Oldham’s voice is more assured than ever, no longer cracking and unpredictably punctuating his melodies like an adolescent. He enlisted bassist Josh Abrams and drummer-percussionist Michael Zerang, placing the two mainstays of Chicago’s improvisational scene in a dustier context than they’re used to. Along with trusty guitarist Emmett Kelly, it’s a winning combo, as the Bakersfield shuffle of “You Don’t Love Me” and the triumphant album-closer “Afraid Ain’t Me” make clear.
Oldham appears in his first local show in nearly three years backed by Kelly, Abrams and Cheyenne Mize on harmony and fiddle, anchored by brilliant drummer Jim White of Cat Power and Dirty Three. Be sure to keep an eye on Oldham’s gaze this evening—we’re dying to know if he winks as he eases ever closer to that cosmic punch line.