If you listen closely, there are multiple varying tones to applause: polite, obligatory, appreciative, supportive, congratulatory and many more. The sound of applause generates momentum and creates a feeling. Among the most special experiences is when audience applause sets the tone and spirit of a show, in contrast to coming after the events and moments of a show.
When John Paul White and Joy Williams (The Civil Wars) took the stage at The Wiltern, the applause led the show. It lasted a while. It was the sound of great triumph; the sound of victory. I don’t think I’ve experienced that specific tone of applause, in person, prior to this show. I imagine it’s heard during a parade when the hometown athlete brings home an Olympic gold medal. It may be similar to the sound of applause during the celebration of a victorious political campaign.
The applause of the crowd was amplified – we were applauding The Civil Wars, but we were also applauding ourselves. The Civil Wars are “our” band. There weren’t any radio stations, TV talk shows, publicity stunts, or million dollar marketing spends telling us we should listen to The Civil Wars. We discovered them and we told our friends. We purchase their music and sell out their live shows because we support true talent. The Civil Wars sold 100,000 records in 4 months, without a major label. The fans get credit for helping The Civil Wars succeed because there were only 3 factors in this “formula”: The Civil Wars, their music, and the fans. We did it. We “voted” for talent. And we won.
In Los Angeles, we’ve purchased tickets to The Civil Wars’ sold out shows at The Hotel Cafe (capacity: 165), Largo (capacity: 280), The El Rey (capacity: 700) and now The Wiltern (capacity: 2,300). We’ll follow them to The Greek (capacity: 5,900) and The Hollywood Bowl (capacity: 18,000). We’ll set up the “Who The Fuck Are The Civil Wars?!” website when they win their first Grammy. We’re proud of The Civil Wars. This is the music we’re choosing. These are the people we want to succeed. That is the sound of the applause that preceded The Civil Wars’ show at The Wiltern.
After the applause, the celebration, the fuck yeahs and the thank yous, the show began and, in contrast to the sound of uproarious applause, the crowd was silent. The music and voices of John Paul White and Joy Williams then carried us from one victory to the next, song after song, we celebrated The Civil Wars.
[Updated December 2, 2011]
The Civil Wars have been nominated for 2 Grammys this year: “Best Country Duo/Group Performance” and “Best Folk Album”. Here’s their interview with The Grammys upon learning the news:
Joy Williams and John Paul White (aka The Civil Wars) played another brilliant show at The El Rey Wednesday. They played songs off their acclaimed album Barton Hollow, along with a few covers, interspersed with bouts of comedy that emerge naturally from their dynamic interplay on stage.
When people talk about the rise of certain musicians and what it took for them to “make it”, they may mention a record label with a dialed-in team of people and resources supporting the band, radio, placement of a song in a popular TV ad, timing, or “luck”. Timing could be a factor- Williams and White met just over two and a half years ago. As “luck” would have it, although neither of them wanted to attend the songwriting gathering in Nashville where they met, they both showed up. The result of that songwriting session was the song “Falling” and the formation of The Civil Wars.
The Civil Wars have sold more than 100,000 copies of Barton Hollow in four months, without a major label. They played 3 sold-out shows in Los Angeles, in one week. A friend recently asked me “how are they doing it? Without a label? Without major marketing dollars?”
The refreshing answer to that question is: the music. Barton Hollow is an exceptional album, and seeing The Civil Wars perform live is undeniable evidence that this is real. It’s good. It’s got soul. The Civil Wars are “making it” because their live shows and their music is truly phenomenal. They don’t have nor need flashy lights and costumes. Selfishly, I hope they never tour with a band. The Civil Wars instruments are simply: the perfect blend of their voices, White’s guitar, and on occasion, William’s piano. That is all that’s needed.
White and Williams engage playfully with each other and with the crowd during shows. They’re genuinely gracious. “You guys are HERE. And you bought tickets. And you stood in line. We don’t take that for granted,” Williams said upon looking out at the crowd of their sold-out El Rey show. The one thing I say to every musician I meet is “You should go to as many venues as possible ‘as a fan’. You should buy tickets and pay the often-exorbitant service fees, stand in line, have your chewing gum taken away, pay money for drinks and parking — truly understand what the audience goes through to BE at your show, so you know how much you have to overcome to blow them away.” Whether or not they’ve actually done this exercise themselves, this is something Williams and White clearly understand. In fact, their entire show feels like a “thank you” to the audience.
I’m posting some video so you can get a sense of the show (or re-live it if you were there). That said, there is NO substitute for seeing The Civil Wars live. Videos can’t do it justice. You can’t hear the silence nor witness the attentiveness of the crowd at what is often a noisy venue. You can’t see the looks on the faces of the audience or feel the dynamic exchange between White and Williams, The Civil Wars and the fans, as pure as it is, in a video. This is just to give you an idea, but to truly get it, you need to see The Civil Wars live…
Williams and White joke about replacing each other during the intro to “I’ve Got This Friend”:
Sometimes seeing a live show is like having amazing sex – when it’s so good you start to worry, “what if it’s never this good again??” During The Civil Wars show at Largo last night I was overwhelmed with immense joy and a bit of fear that the next shows I’m lined up to see may disappoint in comparison. The Civil Wars’ show at Largo last night was the best sex I’ve had all year.
Joy Williams and John Paul “JP” White are The Civil Wars. I could not have had higher expectations for them to exceed and they exceeded them. JP plays guitar. From time to time Joy plays piano. Their voices are exquisite. Their songwriting is beautiful. They’re playful. They’re funny. They surprise each other and they’ll surprise you.
Williams and White met approximately 3 years ago “at a random song-writing gathering” that neither of them wanted to attend. Prior to becoming The Civil Wars, both Williams and White had solo careers and worked extensively writing songs for other artists. Following their initial meeting and writing session, they joined forces as The Civil Wars and have sold more than 100,000 copies of their debut album, Barton Hollow, in 4 months, without a major label.
When you hear The Civil Wars’ songs and see them together, a sense of peace and extreme happiness wash over you – you are reminded that everything is as it should be. You remember that sometimes, when we let go of an idea we held onto so steadfastly, we’re liberated to experience something even better than we could have imagined. You stop worrying about time and pre-conceived notions of how things “should” be. The Civil Wars are a sublime reflection that there’s nothing to worry about. When you see Williams and White perform together, you know it had to be this way. You begin to feel more faith and comfort, realizing that everything you envision for yourself will come in time as well.
I was fortunate to see The Civil Wars perform at Largo, one of my favorite venues in Los Angeles. Largo has a strictly enforced “no talking, no texting, no photographing, no cell phone” policy that leaves the audience no choice but to get lost in the music. The sound in the theatre is amazing and the elegant stage the perfect setting for this show.
When The Civil Wars left the stage, the audience gave them the most heartfelt and unified standing ovation I’ve experienced in a long time. Knowing that The Civil Wars were coming back for an encore didn’t mean the crowd sat down and waited. We were on our feet, applauding, until Williams and White returned, reminded that even if something is a “given,” it’s not to be taken for granted.