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In concert: Bonnie "Prince" Billy at Rams Head Tavern

bonnie prince billyWill Oldham - always freaky. (All photos by Josh Sisk/FTWP)

By Aaron Leitko

It's not that Will Oldham is trying to be weird; it's just his nature.

Sunday night at Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, the Louisville, Ky.-bred songwriter, who performs under the stage name Bonnie "Prince" Billy, appeared barefoot, his eyes lined with mascara, a giant paintbrush moustache squatting on his upper lip. His features seemed exaggerated, antique, and out of proportion - a glam-rocker captured via daguerreotype.

Behind him a five-piece band played soft, lilting, Americana. It was pretty far-out.

bonnie prince billy

Oldham got his start in the early '90s, recording dark, willfully primitive folk songs and touring underground rock clubs under the name Palace Music. During the last decade, however, he's edged impressively close to the mainstream. His song "I See A Darkness," was recorded by Johnny Cash, he appeared in a music video for Kanye West's "Can't Tell Me Nothing," and collaborated with Icelandic pop-star Bjork on her soundtrack for the film "Drawing Restraint 9."

His music has softened up significantly - the lyrics are still given to abstract literary flare, but Oldham has developed an ear for '70s-style soft-rock and R&B-influence chord changes. He's also become a better singer - capable of swinging from gruff roadhouse proclamations to a willowy but distinctive high-range. His records are arty, but not off-limits to your average James Taylor fan.

His backing band - which included members of similar-minded duo Cairo Gang and Philadelphia-based songwriter Meg Baird - ducked from gloomy Southern gothic tones to ear-rattling crescendos, fleshing out songs drawn from his recent record, "The Wonder Show of the World," with grown-up rock arrangements.

But Oldham's outsider origins have left and imprint.

At 39, Oldham has Jimmy Buffett's looks, but Glenn Danzig's stage moves. He leapt up and down and wagged his tongue. He puffed his chest and clutched at the air like a high-school senior trying to vogue their way through a Hamlet's soliloquy.

As if to echo these dramatic poses, the second encore closed with a country-fried cover of R. Kelly's 2002 single, "The World's Greatest." Oldham wants to write, perform, and participate in popular music. He can't help it if he's freaky.

bonnie prince billy

bonnie prince billy

bonnie prince billy

bonnie prince billy

By Aaron Leitko  |  August 23, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Will Oldham  
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