At Pickathon last week I saw Bonnie "Prince" Billy for the first time. A friend I ran into later said it was maybe his 15th. He, like Will Oldham, is a Kentuckian.
I'd heard Bonnie Billy before on record, read an excellent feature in the New Yorker, but until seeing the man perform I never fully understood the music's fleeting and glorious context. The show in the woods made me want to know know more, and I think because of it his records will have a chance to work their proper magic I've heard so much about. That's the hope, anyway.
The Pickathon concert was filmed by what looked like a reasonably professional crew, complete with a camera on the end of a scoping boom arm. I don't know who they were, or what they're doing with the footage but I desperately want to see it. Were there a DVD with crisp audio I'd gladly pay. For that, unfortunately, it seems we'll have to wait.
For now we've got a clip which captures just the faintest sliver of what this concert was like—and certainly a significant part of its gravity was the ambiance of Pendarvis farm, packed in amongst the trees, tents, dust and campers, shoveling out backpacks full of pot and wine. I found it on a blog called Aly Eats Pie and that's about all I know—not the name of the song or nothin'. But if anyone wants to recommend the best entrances to Bonnie "Prince" Billy/Will Oldham/Palaces, I'm all ears.
Oldham's band, The Cairo Gang, including Phil Elverum on drums and a guest vocal appearance by Scout Niblett, were equally marvelous (which is obscured somewhat by the sound quality above). Their dynamic control was expressive and exquisite. They floated like a feather and rumbled as the earth.
As for my Kentuckian friend who'd seen Billy more times than he could count? He said the show was mediocre—as if Oldham just tossed if off in a playful, manner, as an act, tongue and cheek. To me it was wrenchingly powerful. Which, if my friend is right, begs the question: How fucking good do these goddam Bonnie "Prince" Billy concerts get?