The highlight of this evening was a deeply intimate version of “Blood Embrace” for which Matt Sweeney came out to play some guitar and sing a bit. Mr. Oldham paced, gestured, scowled and delivered in full a deeply moving performance, looking like a cross between a street preacher touched by the hand of god and a cro-magnon, what with his prominent brow and less prominent hairline. It almost felt like the audience was intruding upon a very private conversation of betrayal and bafflement, despite the spoken word portion being a performed excerpt from the film Rolling Thunder.
Mr. Oldham was fully possessed by each song, and in turn the audience was captive to his every move. The seven piece backing band – two drummers, keyboardist, violinist, upright bass, guitar and occassional sax – was incredibly fluid. The violinist – Jennifer Butt? – added her very light vocals to songs when required, but largely played a heavily countrified fiddle that fit well at this well-lit crossroads of country and indie rock. The lead drummer in particular (I wasn’t taking notes, obviously, but my wife says it was Jim White) pounded and deftly flailed, and was a joy to watch. Their version of “Easy Does It” hit all the right notes, being the most uplifting and joyful song he’s ever released; “Ain’t You Wealthy, Ain’t You Wise” was appropriately somber and mocking.
And so for two hours they played mostly newer material, a mixture of the sedate and the downright honky-tonk, ending with an endearing improv sing-along featuring the entire band with the members of Lightning Dust, the opening act whose performance we largely missed due to late arrival. There was one brief encore after that, followed by yet another standing ovation.
The Apollo is a great venue, and far smaller than it appears on television; unlike Town Hall it features seats where people over 5′ tall can put their legs forward a bit.
There was the usual contingent of shouted requests, all of which were ignored. All was truly right in the world.