Bill Callahan & Bachelorette at the Triple Door
27 Jun 2009 at The Triple Door
New Zealand (and sometimes Aussie) trio Bachelorette charmed their way into my heart last Saturday at the Triple Door. They opened the show for the bewitching Maryland native Bill Callahan, and I couldn't have picked a better inaugural Triple Door experience than that. Even though we arrived right as Bachelorette went on, we were seated at the front row of chairs, with a bird's eye view of the performers.
Two girls and a guy make up Bachelorette. Their sound is laptop soaked femme-pop taken a bit farther into the avant-garde. The incorporation of new-fangled electronics could subtract from the grounded humanness of their sound, but it doesn't. Live, they shift between lilting harmonies reminiscent of the subtleness of Belle & Sebastian or Stereolab and rambling psychedelia driven by ramshackle, yet precise, drumming. Their technique reads wreckless, variegating between rough and tumble and small and sweet, but when smashed together it becomes the perfect balance of rock and gentle roll for the grace of the Triple Door.
I have been waiting a long time to see Bill Callahan this close and personal. His albums, both as himself and as Smog, have all stunned me with their honesty and genuine quality. Stepping out onstage in a white button-down, appropriately worn jeans and crusty cowboy boots, Bill Callahan was met with enthusiastic applause. "Diamond Dancer" was the first song on the chopping block, and sounded gorgeous and lush with his five (wo)man backing bad of cello, violin, guitar and drums.
Bill was enigmatic and funny, though quite soft-spoken. He danced his own wily sort of country jig and after the second song of the set, shed his shoes completely and proceeded to enchant the audience barefoot. "Sycamore" from '07s Woke On A Whaleheart was as eerie and beautiful as on the record. Bill was over-exaggerating his words and articulating his mouth in silly-looking ways, in order to produce those near-percussive bits of sound that glue his songs together.
The implementation of the cello and violin gave his music such depth live, as on the new record. The haunting and foreboding feel of the stringed instruments paired with his simple, yet prophetic lyrics and vocal delivery was expertly devised. On the seventh song in the set, "Rococo Zephyr" Bill switched to piano, which was barely audible (isn't this unusual for the soundsmiths at the Triple Door?). His follow-up, "All Thoughts are Prey to Some Beast", the single off the new record Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, brought out a noisier side to the performance, slightly frenetic and tense. What's great about Bill Callahan's style is the rigid swell and then the sweeping, often effervescent release, his voice projecting forward strongly and boldly. It's what you listen for in his songs, and he never disappoints.
The excellent "Rock Bottom Riser" helped finish off the set, stunning the crowd into silence. The band left the stage, and Bill's boots were still sitting there next to the microphone. No one moved. It was obvious that there would be an encore... this audience wasn't going to let him off the hook so easily. They encored with a tricked-out version of "Say Valley Maker", in which Bill knelt down on one knee to play, the other leg jutting out at an odd angle with his shoeless toes tapping out the rhythm. He was seemingly lost in his playing, relishing his craft. He plucked, thumped, strummed and yelped his way through the song, eliciting excited responses from the audience as well. The audience was awestruck, and I left utterly star-struck and even more in love with him than before.