On Wednesday, July 28th at Bottom of the Hill, J. Tillman sat alone onstage with his guitar and a cymbal (that went almost completely unused). The crowd was so enraptured they were silent. The only thing you heard besides him was beer being poured.
Tillman played almost exclusively new songs, for which he apologized. In-between songs he was like a folky stand-up. He had the audience in stitches, and was making the ladies swoon. The girls behind me wanted to jump his flannel.
The new songs were good, but didnâ€™t take the form of traditional songs. Each song was a little story, each with a different protagonist. His lyrics, as always, were gorgeously literary. He could have easily been reading us passages from a Cormac McCarthy tome.
Near the end of the set Tillman departed briefly from new material and played “James Blue” or at least he tried to, half-way through he admitted that he couldn’t remember how to play it. Instead, much to the audience’s delight, he played “No Occasion.”
The Bay Area’s ownÂ Little Wings started their set unceremoniously clustered in the back of the stage, looking like they were conferring about band issues. The three-piece funneled their songs through yacht rock instrumentals. It was an interesting, if not inspired choice. Their songs are incredibly rich with strong vocal melodies – they could sing them over pretty much anything, and I think that is the point they were making.
The whole performance seemed like exactly that: a performance. The entire set had a sly smile to it. Frontman, Kyle Field, showed off some stage moves, but it seemed more like a commentary on stage moves. It appeared to be folk performance art.
The headliners, Phosphorescent, came on with a sound much bigger than the stage. The vulnerable folk sound they perfected on their early albums was nowhere to be found. In its place sits Springsteen and the E Street Band doing arena country. They have a really fleshed out sound, and played to the rafters, which were actually not far above their head.
They started by playing the first 4 songs from their new album, Here’s To Taking It Easy, in sequence. You could hear the crowd begin to collectively wonder if they were going to play all the way through the album, and if they had, I don’t think anyone would have cared. Instead, we were treated to “A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise,” done up like their new songs – playing it like this gave it a whole new context. The song turned into a honky-tonk break up tune. Phosphorescent played their set with a confidence that fit them well, and the packed-house crowd was near feverish.