Real Live Action

Bonnie “Prince” Billy Human Bell

November 10 @ St. James Community Hall

Review By K. Bourne

Whether or not I ever wanted to visit the Holy Land, on Friday November 10th at the St. James Community Hall, I was taken there anyhow. Sitting in a church pew surrounded by an audience of music purists, half of whom looked like religious prophets or new hippies (I couldn’t decide), I was first mesmerized by the opening band from Baltimore, Human Bell. They reminded me that God knows how important acoustics are. Their first song was reminiscent of Tubular Bells, but without the bells. Instead, an electric guitar and a double-armed electric guitar made the crowd sit up and listen. These two very talented musicians have already been added to my list of favorites. They began with intense energy, played, ironically, with an eerie calmness that slowly built to a chorus of frenetic guitar strumming held back for an instant before reaching a powerful climax. Tingling and exciting. That was followed by a song that blasted me back to the 70s and reminded me of the George Harrison and Ravi Shankar union, without the hash and chillum. Their music reached a place deep inside of me, that produced a gut-wrenching pain intensified by the melodic, crisp, clear sounds of the trumpet. Then, like a haunting, soft thunder, drums were added to produce deep, sensual and erotic feelings, and a need to connect with another human being. This team of Nathan Bell and Dave Heumann were a perfect lead-up to Bonnie “Prince” Billy and his morbid lyrics.

Not since 1977, when we renamed Dan Hill Dan “Slash Your Wrists” Hill, have I felt so sad, so lonely and so full of dread. Opening with “A Song for a New Breed”, from I See A Darkness, I, too, saw the dark. Painfully crying out for love, with a Clapton-like solo, I asked myself, “Can a guitar really speak to me?” Oh yes, when Bonnie “Prince” Billy strums his guitar, it surely can, and I was reminded of the neediness which can be found deep within my soul. His lyrics are literal and contemplative, not for the shallow. With no introduction or hello to the audience, B.P.B. continued straight into “Wai”. Melodic and harmonic, like a lullaby, we watched as he literally lulled a baby to sleep a few pews over. I found myself yearning for someone to lay with and be that safe.

Finally, he acknowledged the audience, too briefly, and then continued to play a variety of songs, enough to please the seasoned B.P.B. fans and win new converts to the Church of Billy. “Lion Lair” was definitely a crowd-pleaser, his playing strong and seamless with a country influence that was loud and clear. Billy is not for the faint of heart. His songs are like the last song you hear at the club, where lovers intertwine and make an unspoken promise to be “one” for at the least the next few hours. Heads were bobbing rhythmically and in recognition with each song he played.

There were uplifting moments, but most of his music was sombre in nature. I related to the hardship and the darkness and the need for love he sings about, but in the larger scheme of things in my life, I prefer to be uplifted and distracted from my pain. Bonnie “Prince” Billy got me in touch with feelings I would rather be in denial about, especially during this time of year when it’s so dark it’s hard to see the light. Billy has a following of fans who clearly are in touch with their feelings, and they loved him.