8/4 M. Ward @ Antones
The last time we were able to catch M. Ward was at the shores of Ladybird Lake during SXSW, and the intimacy of his tunes was missed as his guitar seemed to drift out onto the shores of on-lookers-most of whom knew very little of the man. Upon his return, we had heard he would be rocking solo, but we were greeted by so much more.
Calliopes opened the evening’s set with a bit of three-piece folk, so unworthy of watching that even the band encouraged you not to scour the pages of the Internet in search of their name. I’ll give it to the trio, they had phenomenal voices, but the music just didn’t carry much weight. Add to that, very little stage presence, and you have a set easily dismissed by the various onlookers.
On a night when Dylan and Nelson were on the tongues of every one, it was M. Ward who came to Austin to steal the show. The very instant he took to the stage, with his four-man entourage, it was clear that tonight would be more than just your stripped down affair. Every minute of music was filled, brimming with the collective rocking out like only the best of studio-musicians of a history past, which is no surprise given Ward’s affinity for such things.
Three songs into the set, we were treated to a rendition of “Poison Cup” that very few of us had heard, except those who’ve shared in the various M. Ward shows of the past. It went from an orchestrated, quite affair to a full on rocker of a tune. Recorded versions of this song don’t do it any justice at all. He followed this up with “Jailbird” off of the latest album, Hold Time. Yet again, he brought more to the song than anyone probably expected.
Full-fledged band, including the three members of Calliopes, tunes such as “Fisher of Men” and “Rave On” were remarkable performances, played with an entirely new freshness, although it’s still hard to adjust to Ward’s delivery in contrast to that of a certain Mr. Holly. Still, heart and soul were poured into every second of this show, and you really can’t say enough about the collective as a whole, sounding beautiful throughout, despite the various McDouchebags that continue to talk during the entirety of shows at Antones.
He ended the evening with two spectacular covers, one being “To Go Home” by Daniel Johnston, which very few people seemed to know, and the other “Roll Over Beethoven” done with a full-on rock mentality. It was a clever encore, and won that had everyone cheering for more and more.
Sure, the completed band approach took away a lot of the intricate guitar work of M. Ward, but it also made his songs jump to life in a way that no one at Antones could have expected. Luckily for us, we were there, and we are grateful we got to see such an energized show to get us through the rest of the week.