The Rialto was not packed last night when Dar Williams hit the stage, but what the crowd lacked in numbers it made up for in magic.
Kellee Bradley, opening for Williams with a strong, sure voice and some powerful writing, warmed the crowd up with a Kleenex-worthy song about a dying mother and a few sweet ditties about love. In the break between Bradley and Williams, I heard a reflection that Bradleyâ€™s â€œhappy songsâ€ werenâ€™t that much cheerier than the sad ones, but one kind of expects that sort of wistful contemplation when one gets a girl together with her acoustic guitar, stripped down to her floral dress and boots.
And then, one throws ones expectations out the window when Williams comes on stage.
The crowd of loyal fans, quite a few of whom traveled from outside of Tacoma to see the show, made a raucous noise that seemed to please Williams, who mentioned her last gig in Tacoma, at the â€œElectric Coffee Shop?â€
While she wasnâ€™t quite sure of the name of the Antique Sandwich Company, where she had played an open mic in 1994, she was sure of her first notes, on the song â€œCalling the Moon.â€
She went back in time for the song, â€œIf I Wrote You,â€ and then lightened the mood considerably with her â€œTeen for God,â€ which was written with the aid of her good friend, a Jewish girl whose parents had misguidedly sent her to Christian horse camp year after year, â€œIt was before Google,â€ Williams explained.
And it was at this point, Williams showed why her fans are as loyal as the woman next to me from Redmond, who told me, â€œIâ€™ll go just about anywhere to see her.â€
See, the thing is, Williams is smart as hell. And she has a cynical sense of humor that is sweetened by compassionate overtones, and mixed in with an obvious dose of vocal talent (and she ainâ€™t half bad on guitar.) Throw in a smattering of cultural editorial, and you have a cerebrally enticing evening. Add to the mix, soaring, mournful, comforting notes blending poignant observations of innocence, childhood, love, and nature, and then add between-song dialog that could have stood alone as engagingly honest stand-up comedy, and you have an amazing show.
This show built up in intensity as she sang a cover tune. She suggested her aim was to take a great song and â€œun-swath it of its guitars,â€ and give it some girl-power; the song was â€œComfortably Numbâ€ by Pink Floyd, and as she sang it I felt the â€œdisembodied voices that are parts of yourselfâ€ that she referred to in its introduction.
I felt other disembodied things within myself surface through the course of the show: through the magic of Williamsâ€™ voice, pent up emotions emerged that I hadnâ€™t even realized had been pent. Yeah, I cried. Several times. Once was during her ode to the Babysitter, where Williams expressed a love, admiration, and understanding framed through the eyes of a kid enthralled by the coolest sitter, ever. Another time was â€œFebruary,â€ a desolately optimistic look at the longest month of the year.
But I laughed, too. Williamsâ€™ oratorical talents buoyed me several times, especially as she talked of hanging with old-school rocker dudes who have â€œexplored the world, pharmaceutically,â€ as well as having â€œworn tights.â€ These are the dudes on the plane who will whip out pictures of their daughters and turn to mush in a split second.
And then I laughed and cried, like in â€œThe Christians and the Pagansâ€, a hysterically sad look at a family thatâ€™s been torn by fundamental differences, thatâ€™s being patched together again.
Here, I found the theme of the evening: â€œYou find magic in your God, but we find magic everywhere.â€
In that theater, magic was on the minimalist stage. Magic was in the good friends like Cheri, who brought me up to a killer seat. Magic was in the new friends, and favorite friends I talked with, and in the people I observed all around me.
Magic was in the three encores Williams graced us with, and magic was in the lightness of step we walked out on.
The music and words were like a magical balm to a collective soul that floated out of the theater soothed, spent, and sated.
And it was good. â€" Jessica Corey-Butler