Before all that was a tap dancer named Cass Roberts, who goes by the stage name Flat Foot. From a distance it was unclear whether she was a sanctioned performer or just a young woman aggressively courting attention. Roberts set up on the floor in front of the stage and danced around to some jazz standards and songs like "Besame Mucho" as a crowd huddled around and watched. She also sang a little bit into a microphone, looped her voice, and did a more haunting routine to those sounds. It was pretty erotic! Here's video of Roberts doing her thing the night before, at Mojo's in Columbia.
Callahan practices what you might characterize as a minimalist stage presence. He doesn't move a whole lot, and he stands further back from the audience than most performers do. In addition to singing and playing electric guitar, he occasionally taps out a beat on a little foot clicker, and plays harmonica. Callahan draws unusual sounds out of his harmonica - sometimes he just kind of puffs at it, like he's trying to blow a piece of food off his lip. He also plays guitar without a pick, flicking the strings with his thumb and middle finger.
The band opened with "Sycamore," from 2007's Woke on a Whaleheart. It was a spacier, more languid version than what you hear on the album, which ended up being true of most of the songs they played last night. Without a drummer, it's harder to recreate the momentum that many of Callahan's finest songs possess. In lieu of that, the band tended to revel in eerie, open spaces. They extended an instrumental passage in "Drover" right to the brink of losing everyone's attention, but finally swung it back to the chorus: One thing about this wild, wild country / It takes a strong, strong, it breaks a strong, strong mind / And anything else, anything else makes me feel like I'm wasting my time, Callahan sang. Scattered roars from the crowd.
Callahan brought some of his deadpan alienation to a cover of the old standard "Old Dog Blue," which was about as ebullient as the evening got. He followed it with "Our Anniversary," a treat for fans of Smog, the name Callahan recorded under until the mid-00s. "We've got one more in us," he said, and then played what to my ears was a pretty rousing version of "Too Many Birds," from 2009's Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. Rousing, of course, is a relative term when we're talking about Bill Callahan. But I left satisfied.
The Wind and the Dove
One Fine Morning
Old Dog Blue (Jim Jackson cover)
Our Anniversary (Smog)
Too Many Birds