Live Review: Sweet Billy Pilgrim at Bush Hall

Sweet Billy Pilgrim are having quite the year, critically. Their 2012 release, Crown and Treaty, has sailed towards the top of the highest ranked albums released this year on Metacritic*. On top of that, I can quite easily see their tour receiving high praise – their show at Bush Hall was a surprising, memorable, fun and rewarding experience – it was also indiscreet enough that I imagine even if you’re unfamiliar with the band it would be a great show.

*If score aggregates are the kinda thing does it for you

Sweet Billy Pilgrim are a band who make personal and affecting music. Even when it’s not warm in tone, enough of a distinct thumbprint is left on their work that a closeness to the band comes across. They’re a group who really pour their souls into every song – the bands initial recordings (after being rejected by a number of labels) were recorded in a garden shed, and spent a great deal of their early years giving away their music. When you understand the hassle the band went through to create each of those early recordings, it means so much more to hear them played on stage. It also helps the band had a great rapport with the audience, never cautious about becoming too talkative or involved. Eisenberg added the personal touch of referring to us all as “pilgrims”, making a couple of self-deprecating jokes and, at one point in the show, having the house lights brought up so the band could take a panoramic photo of the entire audience. The hardship the band went through, coupled by their friendly with the crowd tells me one thing; that this stop on the tour was not just another stop along the tour. Performing means something to Sweet Billy Pilgrim, and it made the gig all the more special. The venue itself was spacious and rather inviting. The ceiling was adorned with a number of chandeliers and several disco balls, like the world’s most aesthetically conflicted dining hall. Weird to say, I found it fitting for a band like Sweet Billy Pilgrim.

The band began by playing the opening track from Crown and Treaty, “Joyful Reunion”. The track is so rhythmic and catchy it makes for a perfect show opener, and it was a pleasure to hear that kind of song played so loud. Which brings me to my next point – remember when I said the show was surprising? Yeah, well, this show was loud. Not just loud, but at times, it was pretty damned heavy too, and way more rock influenced than I would have guessed. If you’re familiar with the band, this may seem odd and a bit strange, but it totally worked in their favour. They also kind of steered clear of any of their softer songs at all. electing not to play tracks like “Shadow Captain” (which I was certain was a shoe-in for a live performance). It wasn’t the kind of gig I was expecting at all, and I have to say I quite enjoyed being caught off-guard in this way. The heavier versions of the songs not only added a different flare to the music on stage, but honestly I think it really improved some of the tracks. “Archaeology”, for instance, became a far more involving song, and its percussion was really given the chance to shine live. The excellent bass line’s of “Kracklite” and “Joyful Reunion” also became all the more powerful and prominent – the songs were taking on a new light notsomuch via the addition or alteration of elements of the song, but via their selective foregrounding. The synchronisation between all the members of the big band at moments like this was also something glorious to behold.

It wasn’t totally Crown and Treaty, however. The band played the hard-to-find but wonderful-hear “In the Water I Am Beautiful” – a song I admit not being familiar with, but due to it’s melodic and fairly open nature got the gist of fairly quickly. By the time the song was finishing up, I heard a great deal of people around me singing along who hadn’t been when the song began. I see this as a sign of good songwriting, when something can just instantly resonate with an entire crowd in the space of just a few short minute, and unite them. It was really was a great feeling to discover that song with all those people that night. The band also played an absolutely terrific rendition of “Future Perfect Tense”, which included a stunning, wonderful and abrasive chaotic breakdown. And, well, I kinda love those.

Blue Sky Falls was, as I’m sure everyone expected it would be, the closer. And by God, was it amazing live. It’s the kind of song that demands audience unity – Eiseneburg didn’t have to tell us all to sing along (I mean, he did anyway), because even if you’ve never heard the song, you just knew. It was another stupendous unifying moment between both the crowd and the band – I almost didn’t want them to encore, as it was a song which (sadly) confirmed my suspicions couldn’t be topped, though it must be said the band still played their hearts out. I think they always will.

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