Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Civil Wars HMV Institute Birmingham Tuesday 13 March 2012


It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Nashville based duo, The Civil Wars culminating with a couple of Grammy Awards at the recent prestigious U.S. music ceremony. This success and critical industry acclaim has certainly generated an element of hype that the duo are about to attempt to live up to on their current inaugural headline UK tour. Ticket sales have been going really well for the band, championed by Bob Harris on his national country music show, and now was the opportunity for the UK live audience to give their verdict.

The historic Digbeth Civic Hall in Birmingham was the venue for the opening main show of the tour, a place now better known in music and commercial circles as the HMV Institute. The show had been upgraded from the 600 capacity Library to the main auditorium and this cramped hall was full to the rafters by the time Joy Williams and John Paul White came on stage around 9.00.

The band may have only a solitary album to their name and no new songs to showcase, but over the next hour and a quarter, aided by a couple of exceptional covers, they truly captivated the crowd with their spine tingling harmonies. The HMV Institute may be used to a more raucous sound from the normal indie performers but on this evening there was an utmost silent respect during the songs delivered by just one acoustic guitar and two incredible vocalists. It wasn’t all silence though as the mixed age group crowd really hollered their approval after each number.

The set list from the couple was relatively simple as they journeyed through the tracks off their ‘Barton Hollow’ album. It was no surprise that the most promoted songs, the title track and ‘20 Years’ got the best reception. Each track from the album was executed sublimely especially when both Joy and John gradually slipped their vocals to and fro the mic. The only break from John’s excellent guitar playing was on ‘C’est La Mort’ when Joy displayed her keyboard skills. Apart from the two most popular songs, the best album track of the night was the country waltz inspired ‘Forget Me Not’, an enjoyable tune elevated to new heights on the stage. Another memorable song on the evening was ‘From this Valley’, a number not on ‘Barton Hollow’ but sure to feature on future recordings.

The inevitable encore saw the duo delve into their covers repertoire and fans who have followed their career online so far were not surprised to see the performances of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Dance Me to the End of Love’. Both covers did their originals proud with the former becoming a You Tube phenomena with an extraordinary amount of hits.

The band are due to continue their short UK and Ireland tour with a number of sold out gigs before taking a summer break for Joy’s other challenge of bringing a child into the world. However following the recent UK release of ‘Barton Hollow’, they are scheduled to return to the UK in the autumn and it’s looking likely that their Midlands date on this tour, Warwick Arts Centre, is due to sell out months in advance.

UK rising ‘new folk’ stars Matthew and the Atlas, from the Mumford and Sons stable, adequately opened the show but they were only ever going to be a warm up for The Civil Wars bandwagon that continues to justify the hype.

Photo courtesy of William Kates.

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