The Civil Wars + Matthew and the Atlas@ O2 Academy, Bristol. 22
March.The Civil Wars are a seemingly unlikely pairing of accomplished, contemporaryChristian music artist, Joy Williams and Tennessean born songwriter, John PaulWhite, whose credit list to date includes Meatloaf and Faith Hill. They are apartnership built around intuitive glances, instinctive accentuation of one
another’s rich and virtuo
us vocals, and the delivery of performances, so rich indynamics, that the pair take the audience from the most audacious clamour of harmonised vocals and gritty guitar playing, right down to a whisper in theswiftest of breaths.Watching The Civil Wars perform live, after familiarising oneself with their 2011debut album,
, provides every explanation of why they have shot from support for Adele, in 2011, to headlining a nearly sold-out tour in 2012 of their own; this is a musical outfit whose performances make it nearly impossibleto follow.
The atmosphere in Bristol’s O2 Academy was su
rreal, as the audience, comprisedof a real wide range of people, looked on in silent anticipation, waiting for theentry of the pair. As the lights dropped and the finely dressed shapes of theirbodies could be seen, the crowd erupted into a near-frenzy, resulting in the duohaving to take a bow before even beginning their set!The warmth and joy that exuded from both Williams and White, was infectious;they were genuinely happy to be there, on that stage, playing to that audience.During the set Willia
ms said, “we like to feel like we’re in my living room whenwe play our songs, so if you don’t mind that’s how we’re going to do it.”
That level of intimacy provided the audience with an opportunity to experience thewonderful personalities of The Civil Wars, making it a unique experience for all.
If the simplicity of The Civil Wars’ instrumentation is ever of concern, the duo
quickly and powerfully silence any doubters with their conversational approachto vocal arrangements, offering an exercise in dynamics that would give some of the finest opera a run for its money. The pair moves from perfectly accentuatingone another, through series upon series of flawless harmonies, to what can onlybe described as a wonderfully and finely orchestrated dual. Their sharedawareness of microphone control, and its power to enhance a song is astounding,whilst at the same time it is seemingly the most natural of things to them both.A 75-
minute set crammed with all of the band’s original material, a sprinkl
ing of wonderful cover versions - with the surprise inclusio
n of Portishead’s ‘SourTimes’
- had the audience in a trance-like state; the pair could have played foranother two hours and the crowd would have remained happily in place, hangingon their every note and word.
Whilst The Civil Wars’ music provides a large part of the reason for captivatingsuch an audience, White’s southern charm, Williams’ besotting personality, and a
uniquely combined presence on stage, manages to capture the room in its