Bands tour all across the country (and the world!), but we don’t generally give it a second thought, unless they are coming to our town. Today, we will compare two tour dates on the tour of The Low Anthem and William Elliott Whitmore and see how they measure up.
One date was in Washington, DC at the famed 9:30 Club, as seen by TVD editor Kelly Kettering, and the other was a few hours away in the small West Virginia town of Marlinton at the Pocahontas County Opera House with editor Michelle Evans.
First up at the Pocahontas County Opera House was Willy Whitmore, a folk singer “from the hills of Lee County, Iowa.” The first song he sang in West Virginia was “Lift My Jug,” a jaunty tune employing the use of both a banjo and a kick drum. His voice was soulful, deep, and bordering on the spiritual, an especially perfect accompaniment to those songs of his with themes of politics, redemption, and the plight of the working man (of which there were blessedly aplenty), like “Diggin’ My Grave” and “Old Devils.”
Such a spirit was also very much present at the DC show. Eager friends in the front row bought him drinks of Jim Beam and joyfully cajoled him to play their favorite songs as he came up to the audience to shake their hands. Just like at his last DC tour date at The Red Palace, he did a great cover of Bad Religion’s “Don’t Pray On Me.” Clearly he understands how us DCists enjoy our separation of church and state!
After about a half hour set and an incredibly gracious and gentlemanly departure from the stage by Mr. Whitmore, The Low Anthem appeared. And we do mean “appeared.” The stages in both West Virginia and DC were flat-out dark as the members found their instruments, and once they were ready, a couple of lights just lit the stage. (This was to happen between every song.) In WVA, they played quite a few favorites, like “Matter of Time,” a song about “the most passive way to look for love,” and “Ghost Woman Blues,” along with a less familiar but moving song, “To the Ghosts Who Write History Books.” (Apparently, I, Michelle, like songs about ghosts.)
During the DC performance, the band also played many of their greatest songs as lead singer Ben Knox Miller pointed out many times that they were going to play the set in chronological order through their albums. I [Kelly] was excited when they played “To Ohio” off of Oh My God, Charlie Darwin as it provides reminiscent memories of my Midwestern roots.
Each member can play several instruments, from the dulcimer to a plain ol’ saw, all of which are an absolute pleasure to witness. The vocal abilities are also nothing short of impressive, particularly those of Jocie Adams, who at times sang like a seraphim, while other times quite literally belted out the blues.
Ben Knox Miller’s warmth, humor, and audience engagement (right down to a cell phone-whistling-“noise” effect they brought out at both performances) was also a highlight and helped make the show feel like it was happening in your living room versus on a stage. They closed with an acoustic guitar-only version of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire,” while everyone in the audience sang along, word for word. It was a truly beautiful moment, after which they received a well-deserved standing ovation.
By the end of both nights, it is clear that even though bands employ similar methods and song techniques on different tour dates, that doesn’t mean each audience doesn’t come away from the night with a manufactured performance. The Low Anthem revealed at the DC show that they will be going into the studio to record two full albums once this tour wraps up, so it may be awhile before we can see them live again. If they are on their way to your town, we highly recommend you take the time to go to a show.