Bill Callahan, Arches, Glasgow

Arches, Glasgow.

Bill Callahan isn't Smog any more, although he is much more Smog than Will Oldham is Bonnie Prince Billy. To clarify, there isn't a huge stylistic chasm that separates Callahan's new record, credited to Bill Callahan (formerly Smog), from the many previous Smog records; it is, like the last couple, not quite as good as the best ones, but with the odd really great moment.

What has changed, though, is that he is now Smog in love (with singer Joanna Newsom), evident perhaps in a newfound warmth that rounds the edges of his flint-hard little songs. Accompanied only by a keyboard player and a gifted percussionist, Callahan plays a strange-looking, three-quarter size acoustic guitar. In love or not, he has an austere, wounded charisma that puts one in mind of Montgomery Clift, pursuing a career as a country singer.

This isn't an easy thing to say of an artist whom you have loved to distraction and at whose shows you have, on occasion, bawled uncontrollably. But his performances have become dull and, despite the undoubted abilities of the musicians, the first half of this show drags. Only Diamond Dancer, one of the highlights of the new album, Woke on a Whaleheart, really bites. Luckily, Callahan has a great back catalogue to draw on. Songs such as Rock Bottom Riser and River Guard are powerful epiphanies - minimalist and tough in a way that makes you think of a southern Lou Reed. Yet they remain emotionally expansive. If there is such a thing as a bleak groove, then Cold-Blooded Old Times is it as Callahan asks, "How can I stand and laugh with the man who redefined your body?" But more interesting than the quality of Callahan's previous work will be what he mines from happiness, and quite who he becomes next.

· At Dingwalls, London, tonight. Box office: 0870 771 2000. Then touring.


David Peschek

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Bill Callahan: 'I've finally accepted that I'm an entertainer'

Ben Thompson: The former Smog man is back with a new album, Apocalypse, that deals with America, emotions and the 'cattle inside you'. Just don't tell him it's a change of direction ...

Ben Thompson

31, Mar, 2011 @11:47 AM

Article image
Bill Callahan – review

The lo-fi pioneer makes few concessions to showbiz, but is an artist at the peak of his songwriting power, writes Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

04, Feb, 2014 @11:22 AM

Article image
Bill Callahan doesn't just write songs, he sings poems

You don't need to hear Bill Callahan's music to feel the magic of his songs: just read his lyrics and the poetry is obvious

Rowan Righelato

19, Sep, 2013 @9:12 AM

Article image
Bill Callahan: 'I can't die – life is too good, it can't end'
With help from his wife and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the artist formerly known as Smog has opened up. He’s even talking to his neighbours, he says

Laura Snapes

13, Jun, 2019 @11:49 AM

Article image
Poliça; Bill Callahan – review

Poliça sound better in your head than live, while Bill Callahan's unflinching songs gain their own weather systems, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

16, Feb, 2014 @12:07 AM

Bill Callahan: Rough Travel for a Rare Thing | Album review
Cold-blooded old songs take on unprecedented swing in the American songwriter's first live album in a 20-year career, says Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

21, Mar, 2010 @8:05 PM

Bill Callahan: Have Fun With God – review
This 'dub' companion piece to his 2013 album Dream River is like a fascinating cubist remix, writes Maddy Costa

Maddy Costa

23, Jan, 2014 @11:19 PM

Article image
Bill Callahan: YTI⅃AƎЯ review – sunny, painterly poetics
The one-time misanthrope returns with beautifully understated reflections on dreams, death and the human condition

Kitty Empire

16, Oct, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Bill Callahan, Caribou and Real Estate added to Green Man bill
The new wave of acts will join the already confirmed headliners, Beirut and Neutral Milk Hotel, at the event in the Black Mountains

Harriet Gibsone

04, Mar, 2014 @9:55 AM

Article image
Bill Callahan review – from cult figure to force of nature
The hypnotic singer-songwriter formerly known as Smog strips his mainly old songs back to their bare bones

Kitty Empire

07, May, 2017 @7:00 AM