Pop Reviews: Pop - Bonnie `Prince' Billy Shepherd's Bush Empire London
Hasted, Nick, The Independent (London, England)
THE MAN on stage with the bulging barfly beard and ruffled scraps of remaining hair may not look much like royalty. But Bonnie "Prince" Billy, aka Will Oldham, is certainly among the aristocracy of the burgeoning movement of introspective, traditionally rooted bands that currently form white America's main resistance to the cultural mainstream. Sometimes misleadingly named alt.country, Oldham has been more than its prince, ever since he put child film stardom behind him to form his first band, Palace Brothers, in 1993. With albums such as 1999's I See a Darkness, he has been dubbed the genre's King of Pain. His solo gigs are similarly supposed to be bleak, intense affairs, not for faint hearts. But here, in a theatre rowdily packed to the rafters, ready for a coronation, Oldham put that reputation to the sword. This is American music at its life- affirming best.
Oldham's ad hoc band - including the High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan on guitar and fellow alt.country luminary Jim White on drums - certainly helps. As with the large, intricate ensembles recently brought here by Lambchop and Willard Grant Conspiracy, it suggests a growing, expansive confidence in this previously private form of music, a willingness to evolve and touch audiences. At times, such as in the sly "A King at Night", surreal folk lyrics float over psychedelically adrift, electric sounds.
Oldham himself belies his withdrawn, maudlin image. …