The room was loud. Vollebekk must have felt as if he was performing to a particularly packed open microphone night with all the uninterested cacophony. Despite Vollebekk's lack of recognition, the man performed an impressive set that I was only able to properly take in upon nearly climbing into massive mouth of the tower of speakers positioned stage-left.
"Cairo Blues," from 2014's "North Americana," blended itinerant rambling with a nostalgic, observational modality. "Southern United States" lacked the band the tune features record-side, but struck solid acoustic footing conjuring elements of Ray Lamontagne and Ryan Adams.
After Vollebekk left the stage, I was caught in an eddy of people heading for the bar/smoking porch/bathrooms. An onslaught of young women with hungry, faraway looks in their eyes further complicated my position as they closed in on the stage with cellphone cameras and recorders juiced-up and ready for William Fitzsimmons' inevitable appearance.
Fitzimmons clad in jeans, a white T-shirt paper writing service and rocking his characteristic, impressive beard, edged his way to the lip of the stage, playing "If You Would Come Back Home" from 2012's "The Sparrow and the Crow." The crowd quieted to where an uninhibited sigh or cough would break the silent reverie. It became clear that the gathered group held massive respect for the bearded, bald man emptying his heart like a purse bursting at the seams with cosmetics, tissues and the everyday tokens of existence.
Fitzsimmons' three-piece band arrived on stage for "Centralia" from 2014's "Lions." The song rose from finger-plucked silence to a hearty, full-band whir, featuring warm organ and glittering pulls of electric guitar slathered with pedal-driven tremolo. Upon the song's abrupt and halting conclusive swell, the audience stood dumb, frozen, unable to clap, speak, or even giggle as the social convention of clapping after a song fell flat on its face. Fitzsimmons thanked the crowd, which prompted embarrassed cheers. Fitzsimmons and his band smiled appreciatively; proud of the awe they had dropped like a bomb on the heads of the avidly recording and picture-posting audience.
Fitzsimmons told the Gramophone that St. Louis is special to him because it's where his oldest adopted daughter was born. The audience emitted a collective, "Awww…," to which Fitzsimmons made a joke about his down-to-earth "rockstar" life. "Getting vomited on by an infant at 6 a.m., isn't that what all famous musicians do?" Fitzsimmons asked. "Josie's Song" told the story of his eldest child.
Later, a wobbling, drunk girl, who seemingly fancied herself akin to a fast-talking and witty character featured, perhaps, in the television show "Girls," bantered with Fitzsimmons, who one-upped the would-be-heckler by cracking a joke about coke-snorting hookers, devilishly juxtaposing the evening's sensitive and artful performance with South Park humor.
"From You" featured a rollicking marching style, giving Fitzsimmons' backing band some space to jam. "The Tide Pulls From the Moon" rocked along with excellent towel-dampened drum work, looped keys, electric plucking and well-conceived confession from Fitzsimmons. The singer-songwriter continued through his set with "Took," "Bird of Winter Prey," "Just Not Each Other," "Fade and Then Return," "Fortune," "Blood/Chest," "Hold On," "Lions," "Afterall," and "I Don't Feel it Anymore (Song of the Sparrow)."
Fitzsimmons closed his time at the Gramophone with "Passion Play" and "Everything Has Changed." The attending group once more silently clung to the musician's final notes as he gave a wave and quit the stage, vowing to return to the city that blessed him with his first daughter.