I’ll be honest. I’ve never actually heard of The Civil Wars. That definitely puts me in the minority though, as last night’s show at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, KS was Sold Out. Just in case you’re like me, living under a rock, a quick Google search shows that singer-songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White met in 2008 in their hometown of Nashville. Sparks flew, thus creating The Civil Wars project. Within a couple of years, the band was playing The Tonight Show multiple times and opening for Adele. Now, here they are in 2012, with their debut album Barton Hollow, reaching #1 on the iTunes store, and #12 on the Billboard 200, selling out shows and writing the lead single from the Hunger Games soundtrack with Taylor Swift.
That alone brought forth a very eclectic bunch of people to the show. Your typical dirty hipsters and old folks, I saw a couple of families with children, even a few “bros”, and lots and lots of teenage girls. But they all unanimously loved the hell out of The Civil Wars. The two singers had the crowd in the palm of their hands. One second, you would be able to hear a pin drop. The next, the walls would be shaking with thunderous applause. It’s always nice to see a crowd be so respectful of the people that they paid to see.
It’s also nice to see a band be so respectful of the audience that paid to see THEM. In between songs, Joy and John Paul spent plenty of time chatting with the audience about what they did that day, and so on. It never felt forced though, and always felt truly intimate. Like they were genuinely hanging out with us. It was fun watching the two singers banter back and forth to each other. You can tell that not only do they enjoy each other’s company immensely, but they enjoy playing their specific brand of bummed out tunes. Even during the band’s most depressed sounding tracks, Joy Williams could be seen grinning from ear to ear.
Unfortunately, to me, that onstage banter ended up being more interesting to me than the actual music that they were playing. I completely get why people like them, and respect their choice of absolute minimalism, but for me, personally, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I couldn’t help but feel the songs might just benefit from the use of a backing band. After 6 or 7 songs in a row, the delicately picked acoustic numbers started bleeding into each other. It just all started to sound the same to me.
There was one track, however, that was introduced as a song to help John Paul “feel at home,” that blew me away. It was a real loud, dirty, swampy, blues number that felt completely out of place in the whole set. After the show, I turned to my girlfriend and said, “I could completely get behind this band if they had more stuff that sounded like that.” It was a fantastic number, that despite continuously loud bursts of applause song after song, ended up getting the loudest response all night.
When all was said and done though, the two clearly enjoyed playing the show, and the audience loved it even more. There is a huge fan base for Joy and John that I wasn’t aware of, and I suspect that in a year or so, they’ll become household names.
By Richard Pepper
Photos By Matt Cook