Sensitive, mushy, wimpy — brilliant. Those words might all be commonplace adjectives for the Civil Wars. Each of them might just be the rightful classification, too.
Backed by copious amounts of hype, Grammy awards, Grand Ole Opry swagger, and lauded BBC and NPR praise, the country-folk duo exhilarated the Ogden Theatre faithful on Wednesday night with a swift ensemble of rootsy Americana ditties. With harmonies built on seasoned precision, intertwining pitch-perfect melodies, and the bereaved urgency of a dark horse, John Paul White and Joy Williams proved that glorified “wedding songs” can ignite the flame of crossover acclaim — and then burn a path toward stardom.
That type of rife appeal can apparently also make it tough to get a good view of the show. With few spots left unsaved, the Ogden was packed tight with a chirpy, if not wildly diverse, crowd on hand. Walking onstage to hefty applause for its first Mile High gig, the duo emerged with a playful energy that included a bit of self-reflexive shock at the abundant Denver fanbase. Remarking “What are ya’ll doing here?,” Williams flirted with her disciples and showed off her vocal chops on the swingy “Forget Me Not.”
“From This Valley” confirmed the duo’s resounding chemistry and seamless songwriting amalgam. Their depth and divergent genre palate also showed a multi-dimensional side of their songbook. Shifting from a cover of Portishead’s classic “Sour Times” to the bluesy grit of “Barton Hollow,” the duo showcased range and finesse. “Falling,” their first ever co-written song, dripped in a moody timbre that segued perfectly into the melancholia of “My Father’s Father” and the “Hunger Games” track “Kingdom Come.”
The duo’s rendition of “Poison & Wine” and the encore reworking of “Billie Jean” were unerring bookends to their setlist that any music lover could embrace. That is, unless you don’t like weddings.
Kris K. Coe is a freelance writer, Denver-native, and regular contributor to Reverb.
Nathan Iverson is a Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb.