Thursday night I saw The Civil Wars at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. First, this is an amazing venue. They played the upstairs which only holds a little over 100 people so it was amazingly intimate. There are only about 30 tables and because the show was sold out, the remainder of the space was standing room only. I got there early, had dinner and then waited out a spot at the front. The Zach Williams Band (they are still searching for a name) opened for them. I really did not know what to expect from this band not having heard of them before. Zach commented at one point that this was the first show they all played together. They were really impressive. Zach’s enthusiasm as he passionately belted out the lyrics to his songs was contagious. He was sweating so much at the end of their set that Joy Williams and John Paul White (of The Civil Wars) comically came out and toweled him off afterward. I was really impressed with the full band’s talent, vocals and harmonies. They are definitely a band to keep an eye on. After the show I discovered Zach’s story from a friend. Check out this article Relevant Magazine did on him.
Then came The Civil Wars. Their quick rise to fame with the help of social media, their song Poison & Wine airing on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, Taylor Swift’s love for them and a stellar performance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno is really astonishing. Their album debuted with a quick rise to #1 on iTunes where it remained for the first few days of its release. As independent artists and a new duo, they had no “crew” other than a few people helping them. John Paul was setting up his own equipment prior to the show which seemed to fit their style well.
The Civil Wars is an amazing duo. The purity of their sound is stunning, exquisite and unique. They stripped it down to their voices and simple musical accompaniment; guitar (sometimes a resonator), piano/keyboard and the occasional concertina named ‘Giselle.’ They are simply refreshing. I struggled for words to describe their sound adequately. Joy Williams’ voice is beautifully and hauntingly poignant. John Paul White’s voice is gritty and soothing. They beautifully compliment each other and their harmonies are delicate and pure. They sing with passion and emotion and have a playful on-stage chemistry. Their voices are showcased as the instruments. They have full control of their amazing range and as John Paul described, Joy knows where he is going before he gets there. I love and appreciate music greatly with no musical ability myself. That, however, does not stop me from belting out lyrics to my favorite songs in the privacy of my home or car. Probably the best personal compliment I can give The Civil Wars is to say that when I listen to their music, I do not want to sing along for fear of damaging the purity of the sound.
They did a full set of their songs from the debut album, Barton Hollow, with a few others mixed in like “You are My Sunshine” and a stunning cover of “Disarm” by Smashing Pumpkins. For their encore, they played three more songs; two of their own and a playfully good cover of “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. Joy eloquently described the way they choose songs to cover saying ‘they sing a song until it begins to sing back to them.’
I can honestly say that I have never seen a show that has gripped me quite like this one has. If you have not listened to The Civil Wars yet, you need to. The best place to start is watching their videos for Barton Hollow and Poison and Wine.
Make sure to see them live because it is sure to be a performance you will not forget.