S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Dar Williams and co.

Sometime around '94 or so, because I'm from Iowa, la_monday took me up to her room down on Green St. to play a song for me. It was Dar Williams' most beloved song, "Iowa". Back then, Dar lived in western Mass., just like we did, about ten miles up the road. I caught a handful of her concerts at the Iron Horse, the major in-town venue.

I moved a few times after that, but not too long after I moved to Toronto, Dar came to play. It was like coming home - hearing her play again with anecdotes of Massachusetts, a song of Iowa, and a presence in Toronto. She linked my world together and I still loved her music.

And now I'm in London and last night I went with my houseguest and C. to hear her perform at The Borderline, not so far south of Tottenham Court Road station, just around the corner from Foyle's. She wasn't the only one performing: the evening comprised four wonderful singing, song-writing, guitar-playing women. I would have bought more than one album at the end of the evening had others not already sold out.

First up was Bex Marshall (UK). She played with her heart, like she meant it, and had beautiful control over her sometimes throaty voice. Her songs - folk/rock/blues - had a good beat, clear lyrics, and were easy to relate to.

Next up was Alana Levandowski, a willowy Canadian dressed who came up to stage looking ever so tidy with perfectly arrayed tight curls and an elegant vintage-style dress over tall boots. Her music was folk-country crossover, and her one serious attempt at country was replete with nicely clever, word-playing lyrics. Most of her songs held a certain abstraction of lyrics, evocative more than articulate for all the beauty of her word-choices; this was particularly true of her intro number, Jezebel's Ringin'. Red Headed Girl was a fond portrait of her mother growing up. Moonshine was a defense of going out to go drinking all by one's female self, looking for a pleasant evening, not someone to take home. Midway through her set, she called up Lynn Miles and Dar Williams for a trio, an absolutely gorgeous rendition of Neil Young's "Helpless". That's a song that crept its way gradually into my happiness over the course of years of CanCon* on Toronto radio stations. Last night's concert completed my certainty in that song.

Everyone finished playing right on time with no prompting and even fifteen minute breaks between sets. Such organized, cooperative performers! Lynn Miles (Canada) was on third, a clearly productive folk/country-influenced singer who'd learned to play the harmonica back in December just so she could play a cover which required it. Her guitar songs covered long, solitary road trips across the expanses of the US, from Ottawa to LA or Texas. Highlights included: Surrender Dorothy was a lonely musing on what happens after the yellow brick road. Black Flowers painted a striking portrait of life and death. Casinos El Camino involved spending too much time at a bar in Texas.

And then, with an hour and a quarter to go before closing time, right on time, Dar Williams came back up on stage for her gig. True to form, she's a strong entertainer, with a deep love of song, a good rapport with the audience. Strikingly, she didn't tell many anecdotes; she's an excellent story teller within and without song, but I suspect that the limited duration of the set, even more than that this was the end of a several week European tour, meant she just didn't have time. She told us about her unfortunate encounter with bed bugs, about religious horseback riding camp, the Tate Modern, but there wasn't time for much more. After her intro number about her son, "So Close to my Heart', she said she'd tell us more about him later, and then didn't really have time too. Nor, indeed, despite all the shouted requests, did she play "Iowa", the first time I've been to a concert of hers where she didn't. Not that I blame her when it's her most demanded song.

But that doesn't tell you what she did play. Off the top of my head, not in order, she played The Christians and the Pagans, Empire, Teen for God, Blue light of the Flame, Beautiful Enemy, The Babysitter, When I was a boy, and finally, as an encore, February. Midway through, she teamed up with Anna and Lynn for a delightful rendition of Fred Eaglesmith's "Wilder than her" - it's been going through my head and making me happy ever since.

By 11 pm, my feet were aching from standing in the dense-packed crowd, we'd lost our houseguest hours before to fatigue, but I was content. My head is full of good music, and I have some new albums to track down and acquire. It's been a while since I've been to a concert. This was one which made London feel that much more like home.

* Canadian Content
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