The Civil Wars
Joy Williams spoke truly when she said that the amphitheatre at the Théâtre Gesù felt like “an awesome living room… but with a sound stage and lights.” This declaration by the leading lady of The Civil Wars, the folk-country duo comprised of Williams and John Paul White, came in the middle of playing their hour-and-a-half long set to 400 enthusiastic fans. From those who dressed in bow ties and vests in honour of the dapper Mr. White to those that (rather uncomfortably for the other spectators) bowed when the pair came onstage, the audience was engaged and adoring, and this set the tone for the whole night.
Relying only on guitar, occasional piano, and their exceptional voices, the Civil Wars (playing the Gesù on October 29th) performed a set list drawing from their debut album, Barton Hollow, as well as covers of Leonard Cohen and Michael Jackson. They stunned the audience to silence (quite literally) with their renditions of To Whom It May Concern, Falling, 20 Years, and Poison & Wine, just several of a varied and well-balanced set. Of modest renown in the music world, they are best known for the inclusion of their songs in such TV shows as Grey’s Anatomy and The Vampire Diaries, as well as having opened for Adele in Montreal this past May.
What was perhaps most striking about the performance was the effortless rapport between the pair. While White and Williams are both in committed relationships, their connection onstage is as romantic as a platonic relationship could be, resulting in a nearly tangible tension in their duets. Their combined voices have an ethereal quality that allows them to complement each other perfectly; as they sing, they orient themselves towards each other, often turning away from the audience and singing directly to the other. Far from alienating the crowd, however, this draws them further in—providing a glimpse into a musical dynamic that allows for the creation of such stunning pieces.
Not to be disregarded was their interaction with the audience. The crowd themselves was thrilled from the get-go, riled up after the superb opening act Milo Greene. Williams and White were visibly pleasantly surprised by the audience’s reaction to their arrival onstage. Williams spoke a few words of French, but White joked that his was better, butchering the title of C’est La Mort with his southern drawl. In between songs, the pair kept up a running conversation with the audience, complimenting one spectator on his outfit, asking for sightseeing suggestions in Montreal, and joking with the rapt listeners. The crowd itself was happy to respond and interact with them, and it made for a uniquely intimate experience. Their appreciation of The Civil Wars’ music was obvious from the awed hush that fell whenever the music was playing, a hush so palpable that in the pauses of several songs, both Williams and the audience would giggle at the taut silence. The sense of camaraderie and common purpose, the enjoyment of music, overrode the whole evening. It seemed to be noticeable even to Williams and White, who returned onstage for the encore only a few minutes after leaving with White explaining that they didn’t want to keep the audience waiting.
The only disappointing element was the brevity of the concert. Having released only the one album as a group (Williams has previous solo work), this leaves the pair with a satisfying but short set. It leaves the fans, however, in eager anticipation of the sophomore album and tour for The Civil Wars. We can only hope that next time will allow them to continue developing as a band and expand on their already moving and emotive music.