Bill Callahan: Live at The Independent


Posted at 2:00pm, 7/1/2011

A sold-out crowd packed the Independent to see music veteran Bill Callahan (formerly known as Smog) and his band on June 18. Having been in the music industry for over two decades, Callahan’s on-stage attitude effectively matched that of his music—sincere, unapologetic, and lacking in unnecessary frills and special effects. The show (and those performing) truly focused on the music itself, resulting in one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen in terms of musical quality. I’m confident that you’d be hard pressed to find a fellow attendee who disagrees.

Callahan’s easy, subdued movements and vocalization reflect his experience in his field and his musical identity in itself. Though seemingly uncomplicated, his music is both deep and playful; his deep voice is as soothing as his lyrics are profound. The entire audience was transfixed by his stage presence alone. The audience was hanging on his every word; hardly anyone moved more than their head through the entire set.

The quality of Callahan’s music was further developed by electric guitarist Matt Kinsey and drummer Neal Morgan. Their skill alone was to be admired and was made quite obvious during each of their solos. Morgan’s drumming was painstakingly precise and Kinsey’s was tonally complex, perfectly enhancing the mood of Callahan’s songs that could otherwise have felt rather flat.

Apart from their individual merits, the band was constantly in sync with each other. Kinsey often waited for a visual cue from Callahan before breaking into one of his emotion-inducing guitar riffs, which were full of dissonance and tonal variety and were key to the textural quality that improved the show tenfold. Morgan seemed to make an effort to subdue his drumming so as not to take away from Callahan’s performance (as many drummers unintentionally do). These elements made the live show an experience apart from simply listening to Callahan’s work through a set of headphones.

Regardless of the supporting members’ obvious talent, the focus of the show was truly on Callahan, who commanded the stage in his white suit, slow movements and rather serious attitude. The detail and work put into each song itself was enough to satisfy the audience without the pretense of the "entertainment value" many bands are forced to play up because their music simply falls short.

The result was a crowd that stood collectively motionless, seemingly entranced by the musicians and the quality of the music they so carefully pieced together. In the end Callahan, Kinsey, and Morgan were there to share their music and not to get the party started, but the music easily stood on its own. The audience seemed to be completely captivated by the performance alone, and rightfully so.

- Kara Henderson

[ play ] | [ download mp3 ] Bill Callahan - Baby's Breath

[ play ] | [ download mp3 ] Bill Callahan - Bowery

[ play ] | [ download mp3 ] Bill Callahan - Eid Ma Clack Shaw

Apocalypse was released in April via Drag City.

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