Bill Callahan’s charm is in his understatement –- which, itself, is hard to take seriously at first. Last night Callahan played an alternately heavy and airy two hour set at the Hi-Dive in front of a packed house that seemed well acquainted with his style. Decked out in a sharp seersucker suit and sporting a grey, mod haircut, Callahan resembled a young Lee Marvin on stage as he played characteristically repetitive chord progressions and simple licks. His style emulated the non-structure of the enigmatic Jandek (reportedly a legend Callahan admires), and was only a tad more structured.
But that shade of composition has always been the magnet for Callahan’s music. It was the palpably heavy spaces between notes that gave power to the songs, just as Callahan’s nearly monotonous baritone thundered over the nearly spoken lyrics. Matt Kinsey, meanwhile, added fodder to the gaps with some beautiful, psychedelic guitar work, and Neal Morgan alternated between understated and overwhelming drums. The trio esthetic lent a sort of irony to Callahan’s ultra lo-fi-cum-ochestral growth over the past decade, and gave it a sort of drawn-in poise.
Highlights of the show included the jazzy “Riding for the Feeling,” “One Fine Morning” a bristling, long version of “America!” (all from the new album, “Apocalypse.”) “America!”stood out in particular as it grew into a metallic, slow jam that almost recalled some Iron Butterfly or drawn out Doors feel.
There was also a dramatic –- even fun –- version of “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” that had fans slowly, but firmly, fist pumping and Callahan begged them to “Show me the way, show me the way, show me the way to shake a memory!” Later, the trio played a long, hugely satisfying version of “Sycamore,” from Callahan’s first record after abandoning the Smog moniker.