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Concert Review: Loudon Wainwright III & Dar Williams — 9/21/12

Loudon Wainwright and Dar Williams

All photos by Mike Roeder for, used with permission
Article by Austin Smoldt and Taylor Yocom

KRUI offers two perspectives of the September 21st Loudon Wainwright & Dar Williams show at the Englert Theatre.

Austin Smoldt:

As I looked around the Englert on Friday evening as the lights went down, I saw a lot of graying hair and balding heads. I was definitely one of the youngest in the somewhat full crowd that night. For the most part, I was entirely unfamiliar with the folk music of both the opener, Dar Williams, and headliner, Loudon Wainwright III. Dar Williams walked out on stage with nothing but a guitar, and wearing, “an anthropomorphic dress of autumn” as she described it. The room was almost pitch black aside from the two lights on stage in front of the black backdrop; it was a very intimate performance for both musicians.

Williams played a mix of old and new, much of the new material coming from her album released this past April, “In the Time of Gods”. She described her new album as a collection of songs written about Greek gods and mythology. Williams played almost a full hour of music, with humorous tales of her children or stories about her music in between songs. She performed well, but by her third song, she had broken a guitar string and had to borrow Wainwright’s guitar for a short time. She closed with “Iowa”, and as the title suggests, Iowa what the song is about. She tried to get the audience to pull out their, “devices of interconnectedness” (something along those lines), or in other words, their cellphones. The room became illuminated with sputtering flashes, and the soft glow that came from screens and flashlight apps. In the end, it was just a room full of middle-aged adults struggling to use their cellphones, I got a good laugh out of it.

After the intermission, Loudon Wainwright III came on stage and the lights went low. He broke into song immediately, and played through a very witty folk song. Wittiness was something that not only characterized Wainwright’s hour-long performance, but the bulk of his career. As Wainwright tuned his guitar, he said, “it’s nice to be here tonight…It’s nice to be anywhere at this point.” He got a huge laugh, and continued to do so as he sang and told stories between songs. I realized at this point that I was most certainly not in his demographic. Yet, that’s what was so great about his performance, he managed to appeal to not only the older generation, but to me as well.

His performance was very reflective, the man on stage was one who had seen a lot things, and been to a lot of places. He had a lot of experience, good and bad. Exciting and plain. Tormented and happy. He chuckled as he stated that the theme of Friday night’s performance was, “death and the afterlife.” He went into a ruminative rendition of “Dead Man”, a darker track about being on the cusp of life and death, having just a little more time left on Earth. After the song ended he joked, “I don’t want to bum you out, after all, it is the weekend. So here’s a song about the afterlife!” He finished a few more songs before reading an article written by his father, Loudon Wainwright Jr. for “Life Magazine”. The articles he read were all very reflective, similarly to the songs Wainwright had performed that evening.

He spoke a lot about his family, and in particular the only Wainwright I was familiar with, his son Rufus. Wainwright shared the story of his son’s wedding to his boyfriend Yorn this past summer. He said that he had been asked to give a speech, but had opted out and wrote a song instead. He performed a very touching version of the wedding song, “The Idea of Us”. Wainwright also performed a beautiful piece about his late mother, entitled “White Winos”.

As he went into “My Meds” he said, “all the prescriptions mentioned in this song are pills I am currently on, or will be taking after the show.” I definitely had to be the youngest person in the Englert…

Wainwright performed a few more songs before saying goodnight, and leaving the stage. But, as we were all ready to leave, the stage crew brought out another microphone, and Williams and Wainwright joined each other onstage. “We have gotten very drunk and played together, but never in front of an audience,” Wainwright joked. Friday night, in Iowa City was indeed the very first time that they had performed together onstage. They played three songs, two by Wainwright, and one by Williams. They both made mistakes in the first two songs, and called themselves out on them. Williams said, “it’s like we are giving them a free rehearsal,” which got another enormous laugh from the gracious crowd. The third and final song of the evening was a great track about living for the present, a great and positive ending to a night about looming death and aging.

Austin Smoldt is a freshman at the University of Iowa. He has recently rediscovered his love for Space Jam and enjoys attending live music performances.

Taylor Yocom:

I spent my Friday night with music by Loudon Wainwright and Dar Williams. Embarrassingly enough, despite my second year of residence in Iowa City, it was my first time at the Englert. I was awed by the old-timey theatre look.

The atmosphere was classy- it felt almost like seeing a Broadway show. The audience sat in plush chairs and mingled to pass the time before the act. Unfortunately, I felt like I was the only one there that wouldn’t be able to remember the Vietnam War. This lowered my expectations a bit, seeing as the show seemed a bit too old for my taste. Although I wasn’t able to relate to the pains of taking Cialis (you’re a funny man, Loudon!) I did enjoy the music.

Dar Williams began with her set. She was playing songs off of her latest album that was themed around Greek mythology. As a preface for each song she geeked out about the gods that inspired her songs which provided valuable background information. Although the folk songs were enjoyable and diverse, I appreciated her stage presence the most. She gracefully handled a broken guitar string mid-song and shared personal stories. My favorite song from the set was “The Babysitter’s Here,” a song about her idolized childhood caretaker.

After the quick intermission, Loudon Wainwright took the stage. I had never heard of him but the audience went crazy as he came out. The guiding motif through his set was “death and decay.” He sang about his relationship with his parents as well as sharing a few articles from his father’s Life Magazine columns. His songs and stories possessed a great range in emotion- from humorous to depressing. Yes, I fully admit that I teared up during the retelling of his dog’s death.

Although the atmosphere was a bit different than my taste—I’m used to dancing and loud speakers—the show was thought provoking and enjoyable. The experience was unexpected and it indeed was nice to be introduced to new music.

Taylor Yocom is a sophomore at the University of Iowa. She likes going to concerts almost as much as she likes cats.