I was first introduced to Dar Williams' music early on in high school by a camp friend. It was exciting. Her songs were literate, tuneful, and yet indie and not-so-well-known. I felt like I’d gotten in on a secret. After all, I’d grown up on classical music and had only recently been exposed to phenomena like Dave Matthews and the like. So whenever I get a chance to see her perform, it feels like reuniting with an old friend.
She played with her band earlier tonight at Town Hall, and I have to say I loved every song she played. It’s nice to have a few artists out there who rarely disappoint you. You know what to expect, and they deliver and sometimes even surprise you.
Her new album, My Better Self, is as good as ever, and she played several songs from it, including two of my favorites – “Echoes” and “I’ll Miss You Till I Meet You” – which feel like instant classics. The first time I heard them, I knew they’d fit in well with the rest of her repertoire.
Favorites from past albums that made appearances included “The Beauty of the Rain,” “The One Who Knows,” “As Cool As I Am,” and “Are You Out There.”
As her first encore, she played the touching “Babysitter’s Here” – which everybody seems to want to hear at every concert, complete with the child-narrator’s cute asides (and who can blame them really?). She messed up on it midway through, joking: "It's not like I haven't played this song 2,000 times." The audience didn't seem to mind, cheering her on instead. Then the band returned to finish with a thrilling, singing-it-out-the-door cover of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.”
If you’ve never heard Dar Williams, something that she really does well is write story songs that modulate in perspective or mood or plot about three-quarters of the way through. They start off being one kind of song, and then by the end, have transformed into something slightly more nuanced or complicated, deeper or more interesting.
“Teen for God” is a good example from the latest album. Others that I love are “When I Was a Boy” and “It Happens Every Day.” The babysitter song fits that bill as well.
Another must-listen is "Mortal City" -- a quiet seven-minute masterpiece with minimal music, spoken and sung with the perfect mix of frostiness and warmth, to match the setting and mood.