When I first learned that I would be watching Bill Callahan at the Texas Theater, I admit that I had my suspicions. Some neofolk music in a movie theater? I guess… Anyway, I soon enough found myself standing underneath the historic theater. Thinking about it, I thought it was kind of funny that, around 70 years before that day, Lee Harvey Oswald was getting arrested in the same building I stood in. Now the theater was planning to hold a concert for Bill Callahan along with a showing of Scream VI just next door. Welcome to 2023.
Once nestled in my red-cushioned seat, I looked up to the softly lit stage Bill Callahan would soon be performing on. One of the first things I caught sight of was the painted bird featured on the art of Bill’s latest record. Red, splotchy letters stretched across the set – YTI⅃AƎЯ. For those of you who are quick on your feet, you would catch that is “Reality” backward.
In some ways, the album’s title well reflects the kind of performance Bill and his band brought that night. Once the wash of sound hit my eardrums, Bill Callahan’s lyricism echoed life in a manner that seemed to overturn the apocalyptic tone his other work flashed. The emotion running the concert stage instead brought something a bit more uplifting. Dustin Laurenzi’s warm, buzzy saxophone filled each song with a hopeful feeling that makes you want to bust a move Charlie Brown style.
In fact, the celebratory anthems of YTI⅃AƎЯ even brought Bill Callahan to dance. Between his eyebrow-raising storytelling of the Texan countryside, Bill would bend his knees, bounce side to side, and kick around the stage like a natural. One notable moment, in particular, showcased the artistry of the performers. When Bill left for a quick string replacement (too much dancing I guess), the band impromptu performed a brassy overture leading up to the digital commentary of “Natural Information.”
That night, Bill Callahan brought us back to the quandary of reality itself, dotting across stories that could take the form of personal journaling to tall tales. The echoing distortion of Matt Kinsey’s guitar, Jim White’s rain-like drum cadence, and Dustin Laurenzi’s hearty saxophone all together brought the emotion of Bill Callahan’s songwriting to the back of the house. Thrill, void, and freshness envelop the songs performed that night, and overall offered a pleasant return after a long touring hiatus due to the pandemic.