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The Civil Wars Live
Craig Fitzpatrick, 23 Mar 2012
Tonight’s Academy show is a touch like being present at the filming of some fantastical biopic focused on two country icons from an alternative universe. One guitar, the odd tinkle of piano, two striking players who could be movie stars. Joy Williams and John Paul White, two memorable names to hold in the mind. She’s in a black dress, pregnant and glowing, moving to the ivories now and again. He’s in a tux and bowtie, looking like Johnny Depp’s twin, picking or thundering away on guitar throughout. And they both sing, their voices dovetailing in gorgeous harmony, part Fleetwood Mac, part Emmylou and Gram. The songs, too, are strong, though they readily admit there’s not many of them as yet – nearing the finish, one audience member asks for “24” more numbers, to which Joy replies, “We don’t know 24 total!” Their debut is just one year old, and that back catalogue will come with time. Right now, each tune at their disposal is an exercise in classic understatement, adhering to old-fashioned S outhern values, either simmering gently or swirling like a hurricane. ‘Barton Hollow’ is dispatched in the first half and a fine example of the latter. Residing in their grungey, downhome mode, it talks of preacher men, asks for forgiveness and leans as heavily on old blues as rustic country. ‘Poison & Wine’, famously adored by Taylor Swift, is their ballad par excellence, a plaintive piano-led torch song that finds their voices melting together in a high sigh.
Elsewhere, they prove themselves to be dab hands at a cover. Their take on Portishead’s ‘Sour Times’ is predictably lovely, while an encore of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’ highlights their versatility.
A real triumph, the only bum note lands when John Paul mistakes Ireland for the UK (a feat he repeats in an interview with HP - see Sounding Off). The pair realise the mistake immediately and laugh it off comfortably, as White smiles, “We should have ended the tour here”, before making a few light-hearted pops about our British brethren. “We might have to now!” Joy laughs as the audience roars. The end is near but, luckily, only for now. Welcome to Irish shores any time.