Civil Wars captivate with unique harmonies

The Civil Wars completely entranced the crowd at Eddie’s Attic on Tuesday, Feb. 8, not with the set or lighting of the show, but with the authentic reality of the music and the heartbeat the duo seemed to share. This folk/Americana band is composed of the adorable California-raised, Nashville-native Joy Williams and resident Johnny Depp look-a-like, John Paul White. On Feb. 1, The Civil Wars released their first full-length album, Barton Hollow, which held the No. 1 spot on the iTunes album charts the entire following week.

Such popularity would surely claim its place in at least a medium-sized venue with a number of stagehands and a really complicated pre-show light and sound check, right? Not so with The Civil Wars. Just a few minutes before the opener took the stage in the back corner of the bar and restaurant area, both Williams and White were spotted taking a snapshot with a middle-aged woman sitting at a table in the audience. They mingled with the crowd so naturally that one could not help but appreciate their friendliness and admire their sincerity.

Just as the audience was about to get star-struck at the thought of The Civil Wars performing a few feet away in a matter of minutes, White and Williams took the stage first to set up their own instruments. Eddie’s Attic was an intimate venue such that the audience did not feel as if it was seeing something awkward or not very smooth for the performers to have to take a moment in front of their crowd to prepare for their time on stage. This actually seemed natural, making the whole experience more real. It was as if some good friends had gathered together and were just about to play a set of songs they had written with those in the audience in mind.

Although the band was playing two back-to-back, sold-out shows at Eddie’s that night, the set list was thorough. They played all of their songs from Barton Hollow, with the exception of the instrumental track, and introduced the audience to a brand new original song in addition to a Smashing Pumpkins cover.

The chemistry John Paul White and Joy Williams share onstage is uncanny, especially considering the two are both married. For the majority of the songs, White played his steel guitar and stood firm with the rhythm while Williams elegantly swayed with the music and told the stories of the songs not only with her voice but also with her lively facial expressions and hand gestures. There were several times when it almost seemed as if White and Williams were waltzing to their own singing, with only the obstruction of a guitar between them. The timing the two kept together was in beautiful sync in every song, yet not robotically predictable.

On several songs, a keen ear and performance intuition could spot places where Williams would often take the chords and run with them in her own spontaneous harmony. The repetition of the word “home” in the song “My Father’s Father” never grew old because of the duo’s seeming ad-lib within the harmony—mesmerizing. White also proved his ability to innovate through his constant use of every part of the instrument, often tapping his palm to the body of his guitar in clever beats. This combination of a truly musical, Appalachian-inspired duo along with the pleasantly inviting venue was bound for magic.

The opening musician, Lucy Schwartz, acted with the same familiarity and welcoming attitude towards her spectators. Schwartz held her own as a one-woman army, with only her piano and guitar. This Californian’s soulful voice combined with such poignant lines as, “you know you’re not there when the wind in your hair goes right through you,” made for a thought-provoking and stage-setting melancholy. But she did not stop there. Just when you thought this smile-splattered young face was going to be hidden away in gloomy songs, think Regina Spektor’s “Samson,” Schwartz threw in several more upbeat, folk-poppy songs. One is called “One of Those Days” that incorporated the harmonica and several mechanisms with a loop pedal. The Lucy Schwartz portion of the evening was legitimately enjoyable. Her talent for performance and evident love for the creativity of the craft is sure to move her to the main stage in tours to come.

This show was worth staying up late on a school night and then some.


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