Victoria Williams and Vic Chesnutt, SFBH, Wellington

I had the greatest pleasure of seeing Victoria Williams and Vic Chesnutt perform at the San Francisco Bath-house last night. What a joy!

The first few notes are sung by Victoria and tears well up in my eyes. It’s going to be a great concert.

I have known her music since the early 1990’s – and Vic Chesnutt’s since the turn of the century. I confess, I was there to see her and not him, but Vic was a bit like an added bonus.

Victoria Williams has the most beautiful voice – at times a mezzo soprano (just) and at others sounding like a screeching six year old girl. As a solo artist (there was no-one else on stage other than Chesnutt) her piano accompaniement is spartan but perfectly balanced, playing notes only when required, allowing the listener to fill the gaps. Her prowess on guitar was similar. Beautifully haunting and melodic. She swept the small crowd along with her charm and her beguiling sense of humour and graciousness.

Is it obvious I’m more of a fan now than I was when I went?

Miss Williams had not long hopped off the plane – she admitted she was jet-lagged. But there was no evidence of a lack of energy. In her self-confessed muddled state she had forgotten her notebook of songs. So she interspersed each song she played with humming and strumming, while she played with the audience deciding what to offer us next. Long silences were not embarrassing, far from it. Instead they raised the level of expectation as to what was coming next.

Her lyrics are very conversational and rambling, but there seems to always be a definite purpose –  “Happy” is a perfect case in point. After fourteen albums (seven as part of the Creekdippers and seven as a solo artist) she had a lot of material to draw from. It seemed like she would never stop. Every ‘this-will-be-my-last-song’ led to another, and another, or so it seemed. That was OK by me.

Vic Chesnutt took over as ‘lead’ while Victoria remained on stage enamoured with his performance and his music. Vic started the set with a little impromptu ditty about New Zealand and our ‘giant calamari’ – a running joke between the audience and both performers in the latter stages of the night.

He started his set with “The Gravity of the Situation”, one of the few songs I was familiar with. Like Victoria his lyrics are conversational and rambling (in a good way). “Florida” was a request from the crowd, and what a great song. In fact his set was pretty well made up of audience requests. We were only denied a few times, usually because the song was so far back in his repertoire that he didn’t feel confident doing it justice.

This was an inspirational concert.