The Civil Wars, a set on Flickr.
The Civil Wars are an American duo who have supported Adele on both her US and UK tours. She’s even called them the best live band she’s ever seen.
I first heard about that about a year ago so I was delighted to see that they were going to take some spare nights from the Adele tour to play a couple of headlining shows and got myself a ticket to the London concert. Their music is difficult to categorise. There are elements of folk, alt-country and singer-songwriter influences.
John Paul White and Joy Williams both had solo careers when they met at a songwriting camp in Nashville a few years ago. They found that they were completely in sync musically. Funnily enough, both of them had tried and failed to cancel their appearances at the camp and even after they clicked so well, it took some time for either to admit that their musical relationship worked and they should pursue it further.
It’s a good job they eventually did as their self-penned songs are beautiful, with sparse instrumentation (usually just John Paul’s acoustic guitar) and stunning harmonies. The melding of their voices was made even more impressive by the incredible acoustics of the venue. This also played into the hands of opening act The Staves, who played a good set.
Union Chapel is a functioning chapel during the day but a concert venue at night. As you can see from the pictures, it’s a special place for a concert, something both singers were quick to mention. Very different from their other headlining show the night before at Night & Day in Manchester. I’ve been there and it’s just a long room with a bar at one end and a stage at the other. They couldn’t be more different. Union Chapel holds about 400 people and we were crowded onto pews, which was a little uncomfortable as you may imagine.
Both performers were very at ease on stage and with each other. Williams is a very expressive performer, moving around a lot – slightly too much in my view, it was a little distracting – but White had to stand still most of the time as he had guitar playing duties. The set consisted of songs from their debut album, Barton Hollow, and a few surprising covers. They played ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson Five, ‘You Are My Sunshine’, ‘Disarm’ by the Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Billie Jean’, and an encore performance of ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’, by Leonard Cohen (which is on the album) and was performed which was completely unplugged. The fantastic acoustics and small venue meant we could hear every word they sang, even without microphones.
The performance was fantastic, a fact recognised by the crowd, who gave White and Williams a standing ovation and demanded two encores. For the second, White joked ‘We don’t know any more songs!’ but the pair found a further song in their repertoire and the crowd remained standing to hear it.