Dar Williams played at the Moore last night, touring in support of her new album, The Green World (were she any lesser musician, I'd have said "flogging the new album"). The concert was organized around the album. in fact: she played every song from it, save one. The usual happened, and I left liking the album way more than when I went in. She's touring with the same group of musicians who recorded it with her, so I guess their sound is pretty closely coupled to its sound: more percussion, way more bass, a much more filled-out and warm sound. I wasn't so crazy about it on my first listen to the studio version, but they're great live, and some of that energy has back-transferred. Also, Dar's inimicable stage patter really helps: even a sentence or two about how she came up with the idea for a song seemed always to be enough to make me realize what she was singing about and to provide a rich new meaning for every lyric.
Dar, I think, is blessed with two great talents (over and above her rich and honeyed voice): she's a lyricist of rare subtlety, and she fills her songs with tiny moments of perfect beauty. The lyric thing it's hard to say much about, because it's all there in front of you. She's smart, and funny, and she knows just how far to take a metaphor or a repeated phrase before modulating it in some stunning way. The little details of melody and harmony, though, are what made me a fan. What would otherwise be ordinary songs are lifted into excellence by these scattered miracles: the descending string section at the start of the third verse of "Arrival," the soaring music-box melody to the chorus of "I Love, I Love (Travelling II)," the sing-song lilt to the tune of "Playing to the Firmament."
Even the songs of hers that I love with an unconditional love, I love for their moments of perfection. When I play "Iowa," it's for the the instant when the verse gives way to the chorus; for me, "The Mark Rothko Song" is all about the harmonic explosion and delicate guitar work that propel the bridge. Even "If I Wrote You," one of the most heart-rending songs of all time in its entiretey, almost demands to be pulled apart into its elements. This time through, I'm listening to Richard Shindell's backup vocals; the next time around, it's the shuffling, mournful percussion; after that, it'll be the two-note guitar figure immediately after the last line in the second verse. Listening closely to a Dar Williams song is like walking through a field of wildflowers: you really do have to stop and look closely to fully experience the beauty.
Then again, there's also "The Christians and the Pagans," her final encore from last night (after an unbelievably beautiful version of "Iowa," an energetic "As Cool As I Am," and the wonderful version of the new classic "Another Mystery" that closed out the set proper), and the only thing you can do is stand up and dance at the same time you're feeling the tears in the corner of your eyes.
There were times, especially during the bouncy songs, when Dar looked about sixteen, a bit bashful but also happily spunky. There were also times, usually marked by bluish backlighting, when the color of her hair went indistinct and if you imagined it grey, she could pass for an active and youthful sixty. She's thirty now, but in those moments, I could see what she'd look like at that age , and I hope very much to be there thirty years from now to see her still bringing her lovely voice and miraculous songs to share with us.