Live Review: Civil Wars

Rosalind Peters 13 November 2012

Civil Wars supported by The Lumineers

Corn Exchange, Cambridge

What does respect sound like? I’ll tell you what it sounds like; an almost entirely silent Corn Exchange, when the only sound you can hear is the spellbindingly mellifluous blend of two voices meeting in perfect harmony. The atmosphere at the Civil Wars gig is remarkable. Having been suitably warmed up by the folkin’ brilliant Lumineers (a Canada-based folk band of great promise, displaying musical prowess and a pleasingly playful sense of humour), the crowd has proven their vocal abilities in a handful of call and response numbers. So why, when the headline act appears, does no one emit so much as a note to join in with their favourite songs? The answer is simple. The Civil Wars are flawless. Note-perfect and astonishingly synchronised (and they’re not even looking at each other), every single member of the audience listens in enraptured silence as the sounds of the charismatic country couple wash over them like waves of warm water. The couple in question, Joy Williams and John Paul White, is a tour-de-force to say the least: musically deft, harmonically skilled, vocally immaculate, and effortlessly seductive. White’s rugged good looks and astounding voice could merit the description of Johnny Depp meets Johnny Cash, while Williams’ breathy tones and total command of the stage put one in mind of a certain Hollywood bombshell pouring out birthday greetings to a special someone. Yet they balance this sensuality with such class and such likeability, by virtue of their art as consummate story-tellers. While the content of their songs stretches from devil-may-care morality in Barton Hollow to sentimental pleas to future loved ones in To Whom It May Concern, there is not a single moment of disconnection between the two vocalists, nor between the singers and the lyrics they so hauntingly transmit to a mesmerised audience – pretty impressive given that the concert attendees are an eclectic mix, spanning a significantly broad age range and largely compiled of standing fans, who seem entirely content to stay in this position for the duration, and who do not think twice about voraciously demanding an encore (obliged by a final rendition of their beautiful and iconic cover of Billie Jean – a perfect end to a perfect evening). In short, the Civil Wars are without doubt as polished, if not more so, in their live performances as they are on their EP. Simply stunning.

Rosalind Peters