Cryptic singer-songwriter Bill Callahan’s record Apocalypse is one of the year’s best, and his new songs sounded brilliant Friday night (Sept. 16) at the Brilliant Corners of Popular Amuseuments festival in Chicago. So did his older songs. Callahan’s two backing musicians fleshed out Callahan’s spare guitar playing without overwhelming it. Matt Kinsey’s electric guitar lines sounded like extensions of what Callahan was playing, integral and necessary parts of the melodies, as opposed to decorative layers. Neal Morgan’s drumming did more than keep the rhythm, adding colors to the sound, and intensifying the aggression in certain key moments. “We’re having a slightly better time with each song,” Callahan remarked midconcert, in his low-key manner. That indeed seemed to be the case.
Callahan’s lyrics are sometimes puzzling, inviting listeners to impose their own meanings. During one of the quirkiest songs on the new record, the anti-anthemic anthem “America!,” Callahan slipped into a bit of “Amazing Grace.” Callahan’s singing was understated, but he conveyed a great deal of melody in a few notes.