World Party, Great American Music Hall, August 12, 2006: Two thoughts struck me as I arrived for this show:
- The place sure was empty. I could see why the gig was moved from the much larger Fillmore, but by the end of the night, the floor had filled out nicely.
- The crowd sure was old--not that I'm a spring chicken. Later, when I caught my first glimpse of Karl Wallinger, I had a better context for his fanbase. (This is what happens when your worldview is hopelessly mired in recollections of MTV's 120 Minutes circa 1994.)
Vanity aside, this was my first time seeing Karl Wallinger in any incarnation. I skipped the Waterboys reunion show a few years back, and I never made it to any of World Party's tours. Karl doesn't help the case, taking so long to complete his albums and return to U.S. shores. Yes, he can lay the blame on extenuating circumstances--both professional and personal--so let's call it even. I was just glad to finally see him, and after a truly shitty Friday, I needed this show.
On record, World Party is often considered a one-man band, thanks to the mostly solo accomplishment of Private Revolution, but tonight, Karl was accompanied by six other players. At times, there were as many as four guitarists onstage, and we saw liberal use of the violin, a touch of accordion, and a fair shake of the keyboards. Karl mostly played acoustic guitar, but he sat down at the piano for a couple of songs and switched to electric for the big hits at the end.
Speaking of hits, this show was all about them. I was surprised but tickled to hear them open with "Put the Message in a Box," followed by "Is It Like Today," or the history of Western philosophy in four verses, according to Karl. In fact, over the course of the 90-minute show, they did little new material, mostly sticking with the back catalog.
At first, Karl seemed to be in storytellers mode, charming us with his great accent (heh), friendly chatter, song explanations, and politically inflected comments in line with his reputation for socially conscious lyrics, though he made no overt mention of the current world powers. As the show progressed, he spoke less, though I don't think it was a reflection of flagging spirits. In fact, he and his band seemed quite jovial, sharing jokes and gibes and, in the case of the backing players, singing along, even when they were nowhere near the microphone.
For the encore, they brought out the two big guns: "Ship of Fools" and "Way Down Now." The already adoring crowd kicked further into gear, contributing spirited and heartfelt vocals. I felt the pull of the "whoo hoo hoo"s on both songs, especially the former, which I can't get out of my head. It makes me think that if we could bottle the power of a good singalong, the world would be a much happier place.
For the record, the show was taped, which means that this is the fifth time (to my knowledge) I've been captured on film at the Great American Music Hall. I guess every concert film needs a dorky Asian fangirl in the front row--casting agents, take note!
I missed the night's first opener, but I arrived in time for Elvis Perkins. Months ago, I heard Elvis's stunning track "Ash Wednesday" on KEXP, and it stopped me cold. I didn't catch him last time he was in town, so I was delighted to find him sharing the bill with World Party. Alas, the rest of Elvis's output didn't move me as much as that one song, though he and his band definitely looked like they were having a ball up there. I especially loved the gorgeous wood-carved harmonium that colored a number of the tunes.
Fun fact: Jim told me after the gig that Elvis is Anthony Perkins's son. I wouldn't have guessed, as Elvis somewhat resembled E from the eels circa Souljacker, though without the more overt Unabomber influence.
» Elvis Perkins live on KEXP