Last Night: The Civil Wars and Rayland Baxter at The Texas Theater

The Civil Wars, Rayland Baxter
Texas Theatre
July 13, 2011

Better than: any other concert ever performed at the Texas Theatre.

The Civil Wars
The Civil Wars
Taryn Walker

The name The Civil Wars suggests that the two members, Joy Williams and John Paul White, are at odds with each other -- except the opposite is true. Williams and White seemingly exist in perfect harmony. So much so that the common misconception is that the two are married.

People are shattered when they find out it's not true. Comments like: "how can they look at each other that way and not be together?" lace message boards and YouTube comment threads for the heart stopping video that accompanies their song "Poison and Wine."

For many, it seems, learning the truth is a crushing experience.

But during their show at Texas Theatre, the first ticketed rock show to take place at the historic landmark, they didn't exactly do much to dispell the myth.

They came out in their signature matching formal wear. White wore a tuxedo and bow tie, Williams wore a black dress cut just above the knees.

From the start, their harmonies were the center piece of their set, with Williams voice fluttering softly in her upper register, and White anchoring the melody while playing the acoustic guitar. They flirted while singing into the same mic on "Forget Me Not," as Williams playfully adjusted White's tie with a grin.

The sold out crowd of about 1,500 (Update: final ticket tally according to Texas Theatre's Eric Steele was 750) ate it up.

As such, the band pandered to the crowds wishes, improvising song lyrics that poked fun at each other, eliciting uproarious laughs throughout the room.

The look and the attitude came off as that of a timeless duo; one from the early days of country, but somehow still modern. Williams, especially, displayed the confidence of one who's been in the spotlight for most of her adult life.

Many of the songs, like "From This Valley," made nods to June Carter and Johnny Cash, while the duo augmented it with their vocal gymnastics. An audience favorite, "Barton Hollow," found them belting out the vocals over White's swampy guitar.

Other moments were quiet, like on "Falling," the first song they wrote together, Williams would step back from the microphone and let her voice resonate in the rafters of the theater.

The band smartly ended their set with Barton Hollow's best song "Poison and Wine," only to return with a completely folked-over version of Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean."

During the song, and the rest of the band's performance, the two's vocals wound around each other like roots of an old beech tree. Williams has a certain playful magnetic quality, while White plays the part of the straight man. But the vocals, however subtle or flaunted, were the star of the show.

Rayland Baxter was a surprise treat at the top of the show. The Nashville singer-songwriter sang soft finger picked songs, ranging from sad, to gritty, and happy. Turns out, according show promoter Mike Snider, that he's the son of legendary pedal steel player Bucky Baxter, who has played with Steve Earle and Bob Dylan.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I typically don't go for the acoustic sensitive rock via Damien Rice and Ray Lamontagne, so I had my guard up when I first learned about The Civil Wars. However, they do a great job skirting any musical comparisons, while borrowing a lot of fans who are into the sappy scene, it seems.

Random Note: The Civil Wars jokingly referenced the history of the theater involving Lee Harvey Oswald, which was sadly lost on a good portion of the audience.

By the way: More shows at Texas Theatre, please! The place is amazing.

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