Part of this was due to the type of fans drawn to the Civil Wars. The sold-out crowd for this KDHX-welcomed show seemed to connect with the music in close personal ways, enthusiastically embracing the musicians and their work. Building these types of relationships with the music imparts the live setting with a palpable energy even when the majority of the music is of the quieter variety. Although both groups work on a small scale utilizing simple arrangements of guitar, ukulele and piano, their vocal dynamism and strength kept opening act the Staves and especially the Civil Wars from becoming overwhelmed by the space.
The Staves are a charming trio of British sisters with a lovely knack for vocal harmony. It is decidedly difficult to not be wholly enchanted by Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor. Just one week into their first tour in the States, the group is unabashedly excited to be in the country playing alongside the Civil Wars. Between the soft beauty of their gently moving music and their humorous observations of American regional vocabulary, the Staves were immensely entertaining and proved to be a perfect complement to both the music and on stage repartee of the headliners.
Working in a fairly traditional vein of folk rock, the Staves bring captivating warmth to their music. Songs build around the interplay of the three singers voices with basic but pretty guitar and ukulele accompaniment. There is a touch of whimsy to their music which elevates what also seems to be work deeply rooted in the personal. There is something very satisfying about watching three singers interact on stage to produce beautiful harmonies which you can only experience in concert. Highlights from the set include "Mexico" and "Icarus," both songs from their new EP, "Mexico." I think it is safe to say the Staves gained quite a St. Louis following last night.
Setting the stage with delicate vocal work and thoughtful narrative pieces the openers made it easy for the Civil Wars to plug directly into the emotional engagement of a crowd that was ready to bask in the aching beauty of Joy Williams and John Paul White's music. The group themselves seemed a little surprised at the eager response. Coming out of Nashville, the group straddles the line between country and folk with a little bluesy kick thrown in for good measure. Together for just under a couple of years the Civil Wars are enjoying a fair amount of popularity and watching them live it is not hard to see why.
Williams and White have an unmistakable musical chemistry which draws you into their orbit. Merging Williams' west-coast, pop-driven sensibility with White's southern country leanings produces a potent mix that imparts the music with an irresistible tension. Watching the duo live brings their considerable musical abilities to the forefront and highlights the power contained within their work. The crowd was drinking in their every word and note.
Williams is capable of blindsiding you with her amazing voice while White has a softer but equally moving style. The pair seems to intuitively work together building off the other's energy and vocal cues. It's clear the duo finds immense pleasure in performing. Many of their pieces, such as "Poison & Wine," are unflinchingly honest and even painfully sad, but you can't help but enjoy the listening experience.
Playing most of the songs from their sole album, "Barton Hollow," the two built up a nice momentum culminating in a lovely cover of the Smashing Pumpkin's, "Disarm." It's also hard not to appreciate a band that can draw out the innate sadness in Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean," but still keep it light and danceable. In sum, last night the Civil Wars stretched their intimate style to fill the larger space of the Pageant to the delight of their many fans.