Bill Callahan


In these dark and troubled times, it is somewhat reassuring to be in the presence of Bill Callahan. He enters the stage with his relaxed preppy college prof demeanour to greet the large audience, in one of his rare visits to the UK to support his recent double album, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest. Callahan is a fine fit for the magisterial surrounding of Manchester’s Albert Hall and its twinkling bright lights and beautiful ornate stained glass windows.

Prior to Callahan’s arrival, touring pals Dallas Acid provide an intriguing set of slow ambient filmic music which at times does feel a bit like a 45 record playing at 33 1/3!

Callahan and his supporting band arrive on stage and begin with new album numbers ‘Angela’ and ‘747’, both of which set the tone wonderfully for the evening’s set, highlighting the rich texture of Callahan’s baritone voice, turn of phrase and the fine musicianship of his backing band.

Callahan then provides a fitting tribute to the recently deceased Silver Jews singer David Berman with a cover of ‘Trains Across the Sea’ from 1994’s Starlite Walker before following this with ‘America’ from 2011’s Apocalypse. ‘America’ is powerfully played with its references to American culture, militarism and imperialism. Callahan’s dainty acoustic guitar runs leading to squalls of feedback and freeform playing from his backing band all creating the intentional claustrophobic ending.

There is no doubt that Callahan is a fine lyricist who reminds me in many ways of the American author Richard Brautigan in the way he weaves the abstract and absurdity in his lyrics. On ‘Ballad of the Hulk’ amongst his softly strummed acoustic guitar, deftly plucked double bass and shimmering lead guitar, he sings of sharing a tailor with David Banner, “…. that’s the Hulk”. Whilst on ‘Circles’, his lyrics are poignant in the way he refers to life and death as a “circle which does what a circle does best”.

Although Callahan needs to do little to win over the Mancunian crowd, he endears himself further by referencing Mark E Smith’s passing since he last played the UK and stating that he was a “God damn force” both metaphorically and physically joking that many have not only been struck by his talent but also struck by him physically! He follows this by playing two tracks from his earlier musical incarnation as Smog, ‘Let’s Move to the Country’ and ‘Say Valley Maker’, both of which are welcomed with yelps of joy by the crowd.

It’s a pitch perfect set which has the audience’s rapt attention particularly when he plays ‘Drover’ with its fine guitar sonics echoing around the Albert Hall and Callahan singing that, “the real people went away, but I’ll find a better way, someday, leaving only me and my dreams”.

Callahan ends the set with ‘The Beast’ with support act Dallas Acid joining him to add power and presence to its discordant ending, before he returns for the encore to play another Smog song ‘Rock Bottom Riser’ and ‘Eid Ma Clack Shaw’ from 2009’s Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle. On this Callahan sings to “show me the way to shake a memory”, of which the audience and myself will have no doubt that this can’t be further from our minds as the memory of tonight will remain firmly embedded as a fine musical masterclass. It’s ironic that on his organic tour t-shirts it states “Call Bill” which as an antidote to life’s current travails is a perfect call. Come back soon Bill we need you!

Bill Callahan: Official | Facebook | Twitter

Jonathan Roby

Overgrown indie kid with a penchant for americana, psych and weird folk.