Saturday, July 19, 2003
You could've driven a Mack truck through The Bottleneck without much trouble Thursday night, where neo-country/folkers Victoria Williams and Mark Olson were in town for an early-evening show. There were roughly 40 people inside the venue, which holds more than 10 times that, and with tables and chairs pulled up close to the stage, it was more akin to a coffeehouse gig than an actual club concert.
It was a joint set between the married Williams and Olson, as they performed both in solo and duets, backed only by drummer Ray Woods. The pair are held in high esteem in their chosen musical field -- Williams for her solo work and Olson as a former member of The Jayhawks (the band, not the team), which he departed in 1995.
But there's a reason there were only 40 or so in the crowd: They're both an acquired taste.
Remember the opening credits for the 1970s TV show "All in the Family"? Archie and Edith Bunker (Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton) sit at a piano plunking out an old tune and, toward the end, Edith strains her voice, screeching to reach the high notes. That's analogous to Williams' nasal tone. Sure, she's distinctive, but when she goes for those high notes, it can get irritating.
Olson far outshined his better half, with his warbled drawl and laid-back demeanor, performing songs from his recently released album, "December's Child." He stuck mostly with the bass, with Williams trading off frequently between acoustic and electric guitars. But the evening's best moments (and they weren't hard to find) were reserved for when Olson took to the electric piano. Those were the times the show felt like an actual concert rather than just a laid-back, informal jam session.
Informal is the operative word here. Whether the whiny Williams was complaining about the heat (and how much nicer it was back by the drum kit's fan) or when Olson had to repeatedly call his bandmates back to the stage after intermission, it all came across as futile.
Before taking a short break between sets, Olson sang the refrain "We'll be back real soon." That's a nice sentiment. The question is, will anyone return to watch them?