Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Dar Williams at the Bell House Brooklyn
Dar Williams is one of the most prolific folk singers in the American popular/folk market. A longtime favorite of mine, she never takes the easy road and has been rewarded for it with loyal followers and ardent supporters. Williams has taken a long and tumultuous journey for her turn in the spotlight. In early November 2011 I was fortunate enough to be able to interview her and we spoke at great length about many things. She told me of the choices she has made, the road less traveled, her devotion to and from her fans, and even her struggles with depression.
But on this night after Christmas 2011, out in what appeared to be some of the less traveled spaces in Brooklyn, there was nothing but positive energy in the room. For those loyal enough to cross over 4th Avenue and head out to this vacant industrial area, you were rewarded. The Bell House was the space and Dar was here to spread her gospel according to her acoustic strumming. By the time Williams hit the stage the energy had reached its own organically mellow vibe.
The setup of the room we were in at The Bell House really took me back to my mid-90's ska infatuation as these shows were always invariably in stone floored former warehouse spaces. The Bell House had a small stage elevated maybe four feet with microphones, musical instruments, floor spotlights, and tangled cords. The connection with the audience and the performers was immediate though; audience could quite literally reach out and touch the performers from the floor.
That said the seating at The Bell House was not really any seating at all. Audience stood and before things got going in a large section of the floor simply sat around in cross-legged clusters of 2-10.
I stood off to one side and took in the whole of the space. Audience formed an ever-growing semicircle around the front of the stage. At the apex of Williams set there were maybe 250-300 people in the crowd. Above the stage there was cross paneled frontage, crossing wood beams which ran the length of the room, and a buffalo image on a six foot semi-circle. On the other end of the space from where I was sitting there was a bar. Towards the rear of the room there was also an elevated portion which had a few tables and chairs. Hanging above were two ghostly chandeliers which cast their glow on the crowd.
The evening started out energetically enough with Pearl and the Beard. They were a trio of two girls on standup bass and a snare and tom-tom drum and a guy with a beard who played acoustic and electric guitar. All three musicians also sang.
I had never heard these three perform before and while their energy started off toe tapping enough; they quickly reached back towards indulgent world music melodrama. I felt like I was listening to 8 ½ Souvenirs meets Fleet Foxes.
A couple of their songs involved an accordion player/violinist. One song in particular with the accordion was memorable. The standup bass player began doing some kind of a slap technique which punctuated the bleak waxing and waning of the accordionist.
If I were going out to see Pearl and the Beard, I may have been satisfied with their set (they also came on later and played with Dar) though for an opening act who didn't even begin their set for a full 10 minutes later than the shows scheduled starting time, their set was two or three songs too long.
When Dar finally came out onstage, she looked great. She was dressed in black leggings, black boots, and a short sleeved blouse peppered with sparkly glitter. She hustled onstage and seemed almost out of breath. She began the set with 5 boroughs favorite "Spring Street."
She right away began telling the stories that we all love her for. Her cadence was rhythmic and breathy and familiar. Before the second song she spoke of her own "very folkie songs which come back to this world." She then gave a particularly tender and poignant reading of "The Beauty of the Rain."
For those who have seen Dar before (which was most everyone at The Bell House) her command of the room was a controlled chaos which was very admirable. Rather than dictating from her bully pulpit her set seemed more like a conversation. While she did have an open notebook with what was presumably her set list, she seemed satisfied to let the audiences sway have their say.
Before bringing out Pearl and the Beard she spoke about her choice to sign with an indie label (Razor and Tie), her connection with her husband, her alumnus Wesleyan (and how 100% of her graduating class moved to Brooklyn), and her decision to write her forthcoming album based on Greek mythology.
Some more tunes from her set included "The Easy Way, "Buzzer," old-favorite "The Babysitters Here," and her newest song "Crystal Creek."
Unfortunately for me I don't live in Brooklyn so the pressing need to wake up tomorrow prevented me from enjoying all of what Dar had to offer tonight. But the whole of the evening was a satisfying enough engagement and was an enjoyable end-cap to an exhausting Christmas weekend. The Bell House is a space which I will definitely return to. Stay tuned for whatever's next from our favorite flummoxed folkie; check out her Facebook page for all the latest news that's fit to print.