The Civil Wars, O2 Academy, Glasgow | reviews, news & interviews
The Civil Wars, O2 Academy, Glasgow
The Civil Wars, O2 Academy, Glasgow
Award-winning Nashville duo are overshadowed by tour support The Lumineers
There’s something admirable about the way that The Civil Wars have become quietly, unassumingly massive; packing mid-sized venues the length of the UK and chalking up over 100,000 copies of their debut album sold since its March release on these shores. The double Grammy-award winning, Nashville-based duo seem genuinely appreciative of a rapturous reception, and endearingly humble despite their considerable success.
If proximity be enough to transfer some of the band’s considerable good fortune, perhaps by the time their own headline tour rolls around in the new year we’ll see The Lumineers (pictured below right) greeted with the same level of devotion last night’s headliners enjoyed. Ostensibly a folk-rock trio from Denver, Colorado, on this first UK tour audiences are being treated to a beefed-up five-piece sound. Regardless, it was the three core members the audience couldn’t tear their eyes away from: Wesley Schultz on guitar and lead vocal, drummer and sometime banjo player Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Pekarek - cellos, harmonies and a joyful smile she barely took off her face for the duration of the set. And that was before she put her instrument down and started dancing.
Schultz and Pekarek played the audience like experts, encouraging handclaps and singalongs
The Lumineers’ self-titled debut, which has been out in the US for a few months now, gets its official UK release next week and, unsurprisingly, cuts from it made up much of the set. “Submarine”, with its jaunty piano riff and bass drum like a marching band, was a joyous opener and allowed Schultz to warm up the old-time country twang that punctuated his voice.
The band skillfully switched between stripped-back performances - Fraites front and centre, looking for all the world like a young Woody Harrelson in his braces and bowler hat - and more raucous collaborative numbers. Schultz and Pekarek played the audience like experts, encouraging handclaps and singalongs and rounds of call-and-response on songs that none of us had heard of twenty minutes before (when the latter fell down a little thanks to accents muddied by the Academy’s notoriously fickle sound, nobody seemed to mind). A non-album track, “Scotland”, made an appearance thanks to the appropriateness of the occasion - it was a heavy, wild beast of a song with pounding drums and Pekarek’s cello buzzing in the ears.
It was the band’s quirkier, lyrical songs that impressed the most though: songs with lines about classy girls who don’t kiss in bars and flappers cutting their hair to the consternation of all. These, and the shout-along refrain of first single “Ho Hey” (the official video to which has already racked up 11 million hits on YouTube) undoubtedly contributed to the most appreciative reception I have heard granted to a support band in a long time. Perhaps the only people in the room who weren’t smiling were the security guards on the upper floor, openly defied by the audience on the orders of the band for a standing-room-only gorgeously sung chorus on “Stubborn Love”.
The Lumineers' five-star performance would have been a tough act to follow for most, but The Civil Wars managed to do so armed with nothing but harmonious voices and an acoustic guitar. There’s no denying that the duo - Joy Williams and John Paul White - share an incredible chemistry, both between themselves and with their adoring audience. If Williams was pleased by the end of the night that the Glasgow crowd was “raucous in the right places, and could let a pin drop at others” then I, a veteran of a fair few Glasgow shows, was pretty much astonished.
Their Nashville roots and success in the “country” and “folk” subsections of this year’s Grammy awards make The Civil Wars easy to pigeonhole, but for at least the first couple of tracks Williams played on the affectations of a lounge singer from some Prohibition era bar (an impression aided by the bizarrely expressive gestures that punctuated her performance). “From This Valley”, three songs in, is more traditional fare; and watching the duo command a two-storey venue with just their voices and White’s guitar - and sometimes, not even the guitar - was incredible.
And yet I, like Thomas H Green on theartsdesk, struggled to connect with the incredible musicianship and gloriously intertwined voices on display for much of the set. It’s as if The Civil Wars are the musical equivalent of expertly-made caramel - deliciously indulgent, but far too sweet if consumed in large quantities. At their best the duo are arresting and powerful: on “Barton Hollow”, for example, where White creates something altogether menacing merely by switching guitar and Williams sings like a woman possessed; or on the beautiful “Poison and Wine” where Williams’ turn on the keyboard mercifully gives her something to do with her hands. But somewhere around their song from The Hunger Games’ soundtrack that didn’t have Taylor Swift on it, or their insipid cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”, wringing every last drop of forced emotion from every note became a little too much to bear.
Share this article
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?