Singer-songwriter Bill Callahan, who used to call himself Smog, played two solo shows Saturday night (April 10) at the Hideout in Chicago, with proceeds going to the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, a group that helps sexually abused children. Once again, the Hideout deserves praise for hosting interesting and entertaining events that also help out a good cause.
Callahan has a low-key personality onstage, matching the understated quality of his half-spoken baritone vocals. He did not speak much in between his songs, but there was no need — these songs beautifully spoke for themselves. He had a way of wincing a bit as he sang or played guitar that seemed to reveal glimpses of the emotions that went into writing them, even as he maintained a calm expression. As New York Times critic Ben Ratliff pointed out last week in a review of Callahan’s new live CD Rough Travel for a Rare Thing, Callahan’s singing has been great lately, relaxed and subtle.
He played songs that he recorded under the old Smog moniker as well as tracks from his recent Bill Callahan albums, including “Too Many Birds,” “Say Valley Maker,” “Sycamore” and “Rock Bottom Riser.” The crowd was exceptionally quiet throughout the performance, paying close attention to Callahan’s performance, but then the applause was quite loud and enthusiastic calling out Callahan for an encore, which he obligingly provided, playing “Let Me See the Colts.”
The opening act was Chicago artist Axis:Sova (a.k.a. Brett Sova, who also plays in the band Mass Shivers). He played solo electric guitar, including some hard-rock-style soloing and a few songs with vocals, which were more intriguing when they sounded less like hard rock.